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Harold Bell Wright Museum
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Harold Bell Wright museum 2
Seeking the Shepherd
It's a small building on top of a hill in a small Ozarks town.
It began its life as a church circa 1882, evolved into a public library in 1933, and in 2006 opened its doors as the Harold Bell Wright Museum for the preacher who once taught inside. For six years volunteers from the Pierce City community contributed hundreds of hours to the renovations and the preservation of Harold Bell Wright’s contribution to the town.
One volunteer and former Harold Bell Wright Board of Trustees president, Kristin Nama, discovered the writings of Wright when she moved from southern California to Pierce City in 1999.
“My husband accepted a job here,” she says. “I had a bachelor’s degree in English, but I had never heard of HBW until we got to Pierce City from California.” Kristin found a similar spirit in Wright.
“He wrote about what my California friends and I had been discussing before I left,” she says. “We talked about religion and what we believe in and why do we believe it and what was the real purpose of the Christian church? And here was Harold Bell Wright writing about the same things.”
According to Wright scholar and author of Harold Bell Wright Books and Collectibles Gerry Chudleigh, “Wright believed a religion that mattered and involved personal and community social services. Wright’s heroes tend the sick, take in the homeless, build youth centers, teach the ignorant, and use their wealth for the good of society. And they usually do this while making the established churches and religious people look hypocritical and irrelevant. Wright calls for people to rise above denominational issues and competition, and to serve individuals and society.”
Kristin was enthralled.
“I loved him and what he had to say,” she says. “I tell people about him whether they want to know or not!”
Millions of people around the world know the works of Harold Bell Wright. He is believed to be the first writer to pen a novel that sold one million copies, according to his obituary published in the New York Times in 1944. Six of his nineteen books appeared on bestseller lists, and he also authored plays and magazine articles.
Wright was a writer and a minister. He began his service as pastor to the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Pierce City in 1896. He rode by horseback to the church from his Mt. Vernon home and received eight dollars a week for his efforts. During his second year at the church he answered the call to serve churches in Pittsburg, Kansas; Lebanon, Missouri; and Kansas City before moving farther west.
Kristin and other volunteers have worked to renovate the church where Wright served into the museum. They put in new flooring; set up display cases of Wright memorabilia that includes first edition copies of his books, photographs, and letters of endorsement from the Harold Bell Wright family; and other historical documentation.
“We even have a first edition of Wright’s book, To My Sons,” Kristin says. “It’s hard to find and can get anywhere from $800 to $1,500 on eBay. We got it for free, thanks to a donation of several items from an Arkansas couple, who just arrived at the museum with a whole box of things to do with Harold Bell Wright. It was quite a gift.”
The museum’s collection also includes items of historical interest to the town, such as a large scrapbook created by ragtime composer Theron Bennett, journals from area artist Grace Tinker, and other pieces from Pierce City’s history.
More history was made in May 2003 when Pierce City was devastated by a tornado that severely damaged and destroyed most of the downtown area. The museum building was unscathed and became the gathering place for community members to meet with FEMA representatives, receive updates from city government and the Chamber of Com merce, and receive support from fellow citizens.
Community events such as Howdy Neighbor Days, an art signing day, and a visit with Santa Claus after the annual Christmas parade were all held at the museum while the city worked to rebuild itself.
“Our history wasn’t gone, though,” Kristin says. “This building survived.”
Kristin sees the museum continuing to help Pierce City grow and prosper. “There are people who remember Harold Bell Wright and come here who want to know about him and what he did here,” she says. “He wanted to help people, and he is still helping Pierce City.”