Volunteers needed to maintain aviation museum

Jennifer Fry

Staff writer

Uvalde has a valuable asset in its own backyard – the aviation museum at Garner Field, home to a cornucopia of World War II-era artifacts. New volunteers are needed to maintain the exhibits.

Housed in one of Garner Field’s original hangars, much of the collection has been donated by descendants of the airmen who trained there during the war. Yet the site bears historical weight far beyond just the memorabilia it contains.

Garner Field, along with other Texas airfields, played a pivotal role in the war as a training ground for young pilots – a history that is worth preserving.

According to Leroy Walther, 82, volunteer curator of the museum since 1998, the history of World War II is not taught extensively enough in schools.

“They really don’t know much about World War II,” he said in an interview with the Leader-News in the spring.

“I get more business from way out-of-town than people in town,” he said. “They’re always pleased with what we have to show. We have a history here in Uvalde.”

Walther has spent the last 20 years leading guided tours of the artifacts in his museum, telling stories about the men and women who owned or operated them. He is a wealth of knowledge and oral history.

Jim Lowery, 58, of San Antonio, who visited the museum with his wife at the end of April, concurs. During the visit, he had a chance to hear from Walther some of the fascinating stories surrounding the museum’s treasures.

“If you were expecting entertainment, you would be disappointed,” Lowery said of the visit. “But if you wanted to chat with someone knowledgeable of that time period, he was spot-on.”

The museum has been located at Garner Field since 1993. Before that time, the collection was in Kerrville.

“There’s no telling what it’s worth,” Walther said of the collection. “A lot of things in here are priceless.”

It is becoming more difficult to maintain the artifacts, as there is no way to completely seal off the hangar from the natural elements. Another complication is age.

“Our volunteers are getting old,” Walther lamented. “It’s hard to get people to volunteer.”

A lack of steady volunteers is what prevents the museum from being open longer hours. It is open on a limited basis from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. each Tuesday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Friday.

“I wish I could stay open longer,” Walther said. “That’s what bothers me.”

“If maybe they had more steady volunteer time, they could be open longer,” said Debra Stifflemire, executive director of the Uvalde Convention and Visitors Bureau. Stifflemire gives guided after-hours tours of the facility for those who make such requests.

“They need help,” she said of the current volunteers. “There’s a lot of things that need to be gone through and cleaned and maybe put away.”

Contact the museum at 830-278-2552 for more information on ways to volunteer. Those interested in a visit after hours can still have access to the collection if they first stop by the  Bureau, located at 300 E. Main St.

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