by Allen Dale Olson, Secretary
Museum of the American Military Family
It was probably sometime during the fall of 2010 that I first heard my daughter, Circe, mumbling to herself about a medal for military mothers. Her older son had been deployed to Iraq, and like most mothers of those in military combat zones, she was worried about him. Never mind that her husband had been deployed several times, it’s different when the soldier is your child. “We military moms are tough,” she told me, half-jokingly, “we should get some sort of medal.”
It wasn’t really a medal she was thinking about, but rather, something much bigger. “There must be a museum someplace,” she said and launched another search. Having grown up with my wife and me in military communities, she had heard many speeches and read many publications about the importance of family to a military man or woman. “But there are no museums for military moms,” she sighed. “Or for the spouses or kids. There are museums about battles, squadrons, companies, and ships, but not one museum completely dedicated to the people who stand behind those soldiers, sailors, and airmen.”
A long pause. “So, I’ll start one.”
At first, I considered that comment one of those usually harmless unmeant promises, but a few days later when I asked her about it, I thoughtlessly added that it seemed like something I’d like to help her with.
That conversation resulted in a flurry of calls and talks with her friends and work colleagues and she and I meeting with state officials in an effort to find out how one starts a museum and then operates it after it has been founded. On March 23, 2011, under the business name Museum of the American Military Family and Learning Center, we received our tax-exempt status as 501 c 3 and our CRS numbers and documents from the state Public Regulatory Commission and we had a museum, on-line only–with no funding or supporters, but a museum nonetheless.
Ten years later we have three galleries, a special collections library, and a gift shop in a vintage house along Old Route 66 near Albuquerque. We have an operating budget, some volunteers and an enthusiastic and dedicated board of directors. We have permanent exhibits illustrating what it’s like to be a military spouse, or a military kid, and one telling the history of the world-wide school system for military children operated by the Department of Defense. We have a series of revolving exhibits dealing with subjects such as addiction and recovery, military family life overseas, and G. I. humor.
We conduct town hall meetings bringing together the veteran and civilian community for discussions ranging from thoughts on war to helping veterans and their families re-integrate into civilian communities, and we work with the U.S. Immigration Service to host Naturalization ceremonies for military spouses. We have produced documentary films and published a number of anthologies, all first-hand stories about the challenges and achievements of military family life.
From the beginning, we made sure that all our programs, classes, and special events were free to the public. Our board of directors are all volunteers, and we have no paid staff. We have managed all our affairs because of donations and grants.
We have moved three times in our ten years and have now outgrown our current home. Finding a suitable place within our means is our highest priority going forward. We have been blessed with encouragement and cooperation with other museums in the area, and we owe a great deal to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History for hosting our first-ever exhibition and whose staff taught us much about running a museum.
Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, says she is grateful for all the volunteer and professional guidance she has received during the past decade and looks forward to a post-pandemic future of still more programs.
For a complete picture of everything about MAMF and its blogs and podcasts, visit www.militaryfamilymuseum.org.