Five Questions for Keith Colley, proprietor of the Mobile WWI Museum
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
The Mobile WWI Museum is an amazing program. Can you tell us about what it is?
The Museum is a collection of authentic artifacts (there are two that are exact Replicas and are posted as such) from World War 1. We have a great pictorial representation throughout the 12 booths of history, including multi-media.
How did it get started?
I suppose the story behind the Mobile Museum would be incomplete if I didn’t back up and share where it all started. The journey actually began 10 years ago on Dec 26th 2004 when I was at my parent’s home in Oklahoma for Christmas not knowing what was happening on the other side of the world.
When I got back to Dallas I turned on my TV to see a huge wave of water wiping away a part of the world most of us have never been. I was in shock to see that thousands had died and at this point thousands were still missing because of a Tsunami, again something many of us were not familiar with.
Feeling led to go help, after gathering up supplies mostly medical, with the help of so many Texans and Oklahomans, I ended up in Sri Lanka offering help where needed expecting to help clean up or even maybe help rebuild. Only to get there to find out there was nothing like that to do so I was asked to meet with survivors and do grief support. (Who knew my education would come in to play here?) The death toll in Sri Lanka alone was over 30,000, plus one and a half million people were displaced so grief support couldn’t be any more appropriate!!!
I could tell you so many stories of survival, but all I can say is that it changed my life! My mom asked me if I would journal while there so I did and I’m am so glad I did. (This comes into play in my life later)
So when I got home from Sri Lanka I went around and shared the experience with those who had helped with the journey. After one of the presentations, a friend who worked in hospice approached me and asked if I would consider doing Grief Support in hospice and the short story, I started a new chapter in my life. The opportunity to work with mostly seniors and their families began. I have always had a special place in my heart for seniors and now I had the privilege to be with them and their families at the twilight of their lives. So from all that I had learned from those I worked with in Hospice I realized that the need for support in the form of education was greatly needed!!! So I began writing programs with education including everything from Grief to hydration.
While in Kansas City, 2 years ago, I was able to visit the WWI museum and while walking through the halls all I could think about was how much my Seniors back in Texas would just love to see all this but can’t. I also thought this generation is the last who might have had a direct descendant in the war. That’s when the idea of a “mobile museum” came to me. Why not take the museum to them where they are? Thus the WWI 100th anniversary Mobile Museum was created.
I began acquiring artifacts and after one year I had enough artifacts to fill 12 booths. So the “Lest We Forget” Mobile Museum is now a complete museum. It’s not just artifacts; it is also a multi-media experience with a complete program as part of the museum.
Even the design of the museum has been created to make you feel as if you stepped into a Brick and Mortar Museum. You will notice that there is a progression in the tour, when the war began, when we joined, then Victory, where everything turns from Black and white to Red/White and Blue.
We had a ribbon cutting and kick-off party at a perfect location, the "Frontiers of Flight” museum in Dallas which spotlights WWI aviation.
You have had been doing some great visits. Can you tell us about any memorable experiences?
There so many stories but one sticks out over them all. While giving one of the tours, I showed one of the Gillette Razors to a mixed audience of both Senior WWII Veterans and high school Seniors. I had just explained the significance of the Gillette Razor to the audience when a gentleman, a veteran of WWII raised his hand with tears in his eyes, and asked to share a story about the Gillette Razor. He went on to explain that one of his greatest memories as a young boy was of he and his father and how his dad taught him to shave with the razor he got while in WWI, and how every time they shaved he would share a new story of the war. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. This caused one of the Senior High School students to ask him a question about his service in WWII and the look on the man’s face was priceless. It was as if he had been waiting for someone to ask him about his life in WWII just one more time before his time here was finished. That moment let me know I was doing the right thing by bringing my small piece of the Remembrance of WWI to the people.
Tell us about your audiences. Who are you trying to reach out to?
The original Audience, and continues to be a part, was Seniors where they live, Seniors retirement Villages, Assisted Livings, since most are not able to get the National Museum in Kansas City. But since the word has gotten out, we are booking nationwide not only in Senior venues, but Colleges, Schools, Special Guests of Museums, National Parks, Air Shows and even commemorative events.
The people reading this are active in our World War I community. How can people help you with the Mobile Museum?
This is a great question. First, just last night I got a message from a Fire Dept. in Iowa offering manpower to help set up and tear down and I continue to be amazed at offers like this. It builds my faith in our country as true Americans and shows me that people are willing to step up for our Veterans, even those from 100 years ago!!!! So set up and tear down is a great help!!!!
Second, I have been personally funding this as a local event; now going national I am reaching out to companies for possible sponsorship. I have spent many hours researching companies and products that were a part of WW1 and are still in business today. I am hoping to find one of these companies who can see the benefit of sponsorship of an event of this magnitude to jump on board. I have written many of these companies with their back story and connection to the war in hopes that they will see that this could be a goldmine marketing moment for them.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share this journey with you. I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment putting this Mobile Museum together over the last couple of years, even with sticking open-heart surgery right in the middle of it all.