Grove City's Bob Traphagan maintains military museum's mission despite COVID-19

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grove City resident Bob Traphagan stands in front of some of the memorabilia at the Central Ohio Military Museum, 1010 High St. in Harrisburg. The museum is holding its annual fundraising drive through Dec. 20 with a goal of raising $3,500.

Since opening the Central Ohio Military Museum in 2018 to display his collection of military memorabilia, Bob Traphagan has cherished the opportunities he's had to meet the veterans his museum serves to honor.

"I just really enjoy seeing the camaraderie of the veterans and hearing the stories they share with each other," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Traphagan, 66, to cancel the monthly breakfast for veterans held on the second Saturday of each month.

"We haven't been able to hold one of our breakfasts since January," he said. "I really miss seeing everybody. Like everyone, we had to close after the pandemic hit in March, and we were able to reopen in June.

"But there's just no way with the current guidelines that we can hold the breakfasts right now," Traphagan said. "Many veterans are older and at risk. The last thing I would want to do is to put them at greater risk of catching the virus.

"I'm just hoping with these vaccines they're talking about that we can get things back to normal as soon as possible," he said.

The Central Ohio Military Museum at 1010 High St. in Harrisburg has some new displays, according to Grove City resident Bob Traphagan, who opened the museum in 2018.

Traphagan opened the museum on Veterans Day 2018 at 1010 High St. in Harrisburg after purchasing the building from VFW Post 11208. The VFW maintains its office and continues to hold its meetings in the building.

The Grove City resident searched 10 years for a permanent location to display his collection of thousands of pieces of memorabilia, including uniforms from all branches of the service, medals, books, letters, photographs and military pins.

Traphagan had been storing the memorabilia in the basement at his home.

About 60% of his collection is on display at the museum, he said.

For Traphagan and his museum, 2020 has been a year of peaks and valleys.

"On the high side, we've been able to celebrate our two-year anniversary of being open and being viable, and that's a good feeling," he said. 

Since the museum reopened in June after its temporary closure, attendance has dipped a bit, Traphagan said.

"We're usually seeing between five and 15 visitors a week," he said. "Because of the 10-person limit (for indoor gatherings), we're mostly seeing individual visitors now. We can't really have large groups tour the museum."

The Central Ohio Military Museum at 1010 High St. in Harrisburg has some new displays, according to Grove City resident Bob Traphagan, who opened the museum in 2018.

In addition to the COVID-related issues, the museum had to replace its furnaces and air conditioners in October at a cost of $9,500.

"They were about 21 years old, and they just had reached the end of their useful life," Traphagan said. "And when you have heating and cooling systems that are that old, they just don't make the parts for them anymore. The technology has advanced."

The museum does not offer memberships and charges $2 for admission, with veterans admitted free.

"Attendance is not what we're driven by," Traphagan said. "A $2 admission is not going to cover our regular costs to operate. We really rely on contributions, and we've been fortunate that people have continued to contribute to and support the museum."

Vintage military uniforms are among the displays at the Central Ohio Military Museum at 1010 High St. in Harrisburg.

The museum is holding its annual individual fundraising drive through Dec. 20 with a goal of raising $3,500.

"We're being realistic about the amount of money we're trying to raise," Traphagan said. "It's not going to cover the entire $9,500 cost of putting in a new furnace and air-conditioning unit, but it will help support our mission to honor our veterans."

A corporate fundraising effort also will be held in January and February, he said.

Individuals may donate by sending a check to Central Ohio Military Museum, 1010 High St., PO Box 283, Harrisburg, 43126.

Contributions also may be made using the donation button at thecomm.org or on the museum's Facebook page.

Visitors to the museum will find new additions to the display, Traphagan said.

The museum rotates the items on view on its theme wall and in its recent donation display, he said.

The theme wall's current display celebrates the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, with news stories and photos of Victory in Europe Day and Victory Over Japan Day, Traphagan said. 

Memorabilia from Tech Sgt. Gerald L. Smitley is on view in the recent donation cases, he said. Smitley was a 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran who retired in 1991 and died in April 2020.

A native of Zanesville, Smitley served 20 years as zoning inspector for Wayne Township in Muskingum County after retiring from the Air Force.

"In the airborne room, we have added a sand table showing the 101st AB 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment's D-Day objectives, and we've also added a new case with additional paratrooper items," Traphagan said. 

Two new display cases in the main room feature World War II Japanese and German items, he said. Another case displays a survival radio complete with a padded bag and parachute to drop the bag to stranded personnel.

"Items are added as we obtain them or as they can be worked into a display," said Traphagan, who didn't serve in the military but has been a collector for several years.

The Central Ohio Military Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and is closed Sundays and Mondays. Call 614-992-4110.

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