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China Grove fifth-graders say thanks to a ‘priceless’ museum

CHINA GROVE — While taking me on a quick tour of the Price of Freedom Museum Thursday morning, Bobby Mault stopped in a corner of the room he has dedicated to the U.S. Marine Corps and recounted how the museum came into possession of Lance Cpl. Rachel Harless Stanton’s uniform.

Stanton died at a young age — 32 — two years ago. She had served with the Marine Corps from 1999 to 2003, so her death wasn’t connected to military service, but her family took it hard, of course. She had served as a Marine during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

As Mault told it, Rachel’s father had walked into the museum one day to see what Mault had done with the old Patterson School, and after his tour, Kenneth and Janis Harless decided to donate their daughter’s uniform for display. Always patriotic, Rachel would have preferred this, the parents decided, over its hanging in their closet at home.

As he seems to have a knack for doing, Mault provided a sensitive display of Rachel’s uniform, along with photographs of her, her Marine father and uncles who had been in the Marines and U.S. Navy.

When Kenneth Harless returned to the museum and saw what Mault had done, he said, “That’s better than standing in a cemetery and staring at a tombstone.”

Just telling the story chokes Mault up every time.

“My heart then felt worthy of what has happened here,” he said.

Mault received another kind of reward Thursday morning when the three fifth-grade classes at China Grove Elementary presented him with a $1,000 check for the museum. It represented their efforts over the past three weeks of collecting coins — and a few dollars — over the entire school.

But it also was part of a project-based learning exercise for each student. Using their iPads, the students made movies about the museum based on their research. They looked into the purpose behind the museum, how it helps people understand the sacrifices behind freedom and what educational opportunities it provides.

The fifth-graders also went into every classroom at China Grove Elementary, including kindergarten, making presentations on the things they had learned before their own official field trip to the museum on Thursday morning.

In addition, as the many coins were collected, they did all the daily counting and recording of totals, which were rechecked by their teachers, Christina Coley, Ken Hartman and Jill Stepanian.

•••

Every fifth-grader in Rowan-Salisbury Schools visits the Price of Freedom Museum, located at 2420 Weaver Road. By the end of the 2014-2015 year, Mault said, more than 9,000 students will have been to the museum, which is filled with uniforms. photographs, military artifacts, books and memorabilia from World War I through Afghanistan.

Coley said the museum is an educational, hands-on experience for the fifth-graders. “They get to see the real deal here,” she said.

It also can be personal. It’s not unusual for students to be walking through the museum when they see photographs or military uniforms of their grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbors or someone they know from church.

Coley said students need to know the importance of freedom, why they have it and why it’s important to preserve it.

Coley broached the idea of the fifth-grade classes raising some money for the museum with her fellow teachers at China Grove. The reason was simple — the museum just does so much for their students each year, Coley said.

“We just hope the legacy continues for our students for generations to come,” she added.

Mault has always said every county should have this type of museum, which he has personally nurtured and grown over the years with the help of many volunteers. Those on hand Thursday morning included Bobby Harrison, Joel Honeycutt, Terry Oglethorpe and Neal Morrow.

The thing that excited Mault the most Thursday was hearing that the China Grove fifth-graders had talked to every student in the school about the museum.

“How much younger can you get than kindergarten?” Mault said.

•••

The miracle behind the Price of Freedom Museum is that everything has been donated. Mault has never asked for anything. He laughs that the museum has benefited from the cleaning out of a lot of basements, attics, closets and garages.

This all started when Mault hung up a uniform in his gas station. Now more than 800 uniforms are on display at the museum, representing all branches of the military. But that’s only part of what Mault and others have done with the school’s old cafeteria annex and each room in the main building dedicated to the service branches.

When someone asks Mault about donating a military artifact that belonged to a love one, Mault asks them to visit the museum, look around and decide whether the place is appropriate.

“If it’s worthy of what you got to give, you bring it,” he tells them.

Mault, 80, still works all week at his gas station, and he spends four hours a night, three nights a week, working on the displays at the museum. He’s finishing up the Air Force room and can’t wait to tackle the “three-room house,” which will give people a glimpse into a family’s lifestyle during World War II.

It doesn’t bother Mault that some of the old classrooms can be chilly until the heat kicks in.

“I’m just so thrilled with what I’m doing,” he said.

Besides all the military stuff, Mault also seems to be collecting a lot of artifacts related to law enforcement and local fire departments. Don’t worry, he has plans for them. As for the school auditorium, he envisions its being a place for community meetings and singing events. It also could be the place where interviews with veterans will be shown on a big screen.

David Freeze has been recording many of those interviews at the museum.

Mault became emotional one other time Thursday morning. It’s when he received that check from the kids.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Price of Freedom Museum is priceless. And so is Bobby Mault.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com. Located at 2420 Weaver Road, close to its intersection with Patterson Road, the Price of Freedom Museum is free and open to the public from 3-5 p.m. Sundays and by appointment. Call Bob Mault at 704-857-7474 for a booking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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