Recently, Corp! magazine spent “10 Minutes With” John Ryder, executive director of Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum. The nonprofit was founded in 1976 by Stan Bozich, a Navy vet and Royal Oak firefighter. Originally located in Royal Oak, this hidden gem of a museum made its home in Frankenmuth in 1980, based on the city’s reputation as a top tourist attraction in the state.
Corp!: What is the museum about?
John Ryder: It’s about honoring, respecting and remembering those service men and women from Michigan. We are trying to capture as many of their individual stories as we can. Instead of telling about the objects of war, weapons, military machines or the events and places, we focus on the individuals and how all those things come together in telling the individual’s story. We use the artifacts that we have to help tell the personal stories instead of just telling the stories of the artifacts.
Corp!: How do you get materials for the exhibits?
JR: We have over 700 stories now. When I started here in June 2014, we had probably compiled about 450 stories. We get two to three stories per week that come in on average. The families or the veterans themselves bring their materials in and inquire whether we would do a story about them. Most times, the answer is yes.
Opening a foot locker that hasn’t been opened in 50 years, sitting there and going through the things that families want us to have to help tell the story about their family member is humbling.
Another way we get stories is when we talk to vets or their families when they visit the museum. We also meet them out in the community and may talk to them about their story before it comes to the museum. A lot of times things will just show up.
Corp!: What gets you excited to come to work every day?
JR: Getting to meet the veterans and being able to tell their stories. Today we had a veteran who stopped in and we have his story here. We grabbed his box and talked about his story with him so we can share it better with other individuals. I really love history and I love learning. That’s true of all our employees here.
Corp!: What is the museum’s most recent success story?
JR: In honor of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we put out our stories from Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and the early Philippine conflicts.
Corp!: What is the most visited part of the collection?
JR: The Medal of Honor gallery. It’s the nation’s largest collection of named Medals of Honor (30 total). More than the Smithsonian Institute.
Corp!: What do you hear most often from first time visitors?
JR: I look through our comment book every day when I come in and what I see are things like: outstanding, amazing, great. Our building looks small from the outside, but people will spend about one-and-a-half to two hours when they get here.
Corp!: What advice would you give someone who wants to show appreciation to our veterans?
JR: The biggest thing is to thank them for their service. And just listen – the veterans want to share their story if you want to learn.
Corp!: Being in Frankenmuth, what is your favorite restaurant?
JR: The one that serves chicken!
Corp!: What is the last book you read?
JR: “Killing the Rising Sun” by Bill O’Reilly.
Editor’s note: The Museum is hosting a Spirit of Michigan event on April 29, 2017 where it will honor museum founder Stan Bozich and our nation’s most recent Medal of Honor recipient, retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles from Ypsilanti. Kettles was awarded the medal by President Obama on July 18, 2016 nearly 50 years after his heroic acts in Vietnam. Contact the museum at (989) 652-8005 for more info.