Bong Center creates award to recognize volunteers
Jim Grant was born in Scotland just before World War II.
"World War II was a major part of my growing up," Grant said. "My dad tried to volunteer for the service, and I remember that he was told he was too old. He was outraged and joined the Naval Volunteer Reserve; he was away for maybe three years."
That experience, coupled with the fact that his wife, Christabel, was the director of development and later the first director for the Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center, prompted a long-term volunteer relationship with what is today the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.
Grant took over the development of the commemorative tile wall honoring those who served in the lower level of the museum, and managed it until 2017, when the historical center's current director, Hayes Scrivner, took over the project.
With all that Jim and Christabel Grant have done for the Bong Center, Scrivner said it made sense to name the Volunteer of the Year award in honor of Jim Grant.
"It's just a way to recognize our volunteers and recognize those that go above and beyond," Scrivner said. He said it's an idea he's batted around since joining the Bong Center two years ago.
"The commitment here — the religiousness of which they all come — is impressive," Scrivner said.
The first recipient of the Jim Grant Volunteer of the Year award has been a volunteer for 18 years, giving his time to build and catalog the center's collection even before the Bong Center construction was completed in 2003.
Superior resident Ken Beyer, who served in the Minnesota Air National Guard from 1953 to 1961, was growing up when Bong became America's Ace of Aces after downing 40 Japanese planes in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
"I can remember him flying over (Superior) and he was right down where the leaves on trees, some of them would fall to the ground because he was that low," Beyer said. "I was always interested in Bong because of his relation to this area."
Bong grew up in Poplar.
Beyer's uncle also served as a gunner aboard the B-17 during World War II and was a prisoner of war for 18 months in Europe after being shot down.
"I'm interested in the history and a number of artifacts that we come across, everything from weapons ... uniforms, discharge papers and all that," Beyer said. "It's all interesting and good history."
Once a week, Beyer goes to Bong Center to help catalog and care for the collection.
"Did he say how indispensable he is with making boxes and stuff," said fellow volunteer Debbie Ritzinger, who worked with Beyer when the collection was still stored at Hawkes Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Beyer custom designed a box for a replica of a military vehicle used during World War II that was created from scrap by German and Italian prisoners of war in Missouri.
It was given to the POW's guard, Beyer said.
"I made it so you don't lift the vehicle out of here," said Beyer, who recounted how he used floss, string and Q-tips to remove dust and dirt from the vehicle's engine when it was donated in 2011.
Beyer said he was surprised to learn he'd won the award because he hadn't been aware one was being created.
Plans to recognize Beyer with a ceremony Friday, April 12, have been postponed because of the weather, but Scrivner said the ceremony will be rescheduled for sometime in May.
Grant wasn't expecting to be honored either for the years of service he gave the Bong Center.
"It was a complete surprise," Grant said when he learned the award would be named in his honor. "It was a most unexpected honor. Doing the tile gallery was a labor of love really and it enabled me to honor my family who had served in World War II, my dad who was in the Navy, my uncle and an aunt, and brother-in-law all served in World War II.
"It was a pleasure to give them and so many others recognition for their part in the war effort. It was wonderful to see a family gather around a tile and reminisce about their loved one."