CLINTON — Justin Scott had barely stepped inside the door of Clinton County Historical Society Museum when he saw his grandmother, Mary Petersen, smiling at him from an adjacent room.
“I literally stopped everything I was doing and made a beeline in here,” Scott said last week. His grandmother’s face — and that of her sister Betty — looked down from a high school class photo hanging on the museum’s wall.
Born in Maquoketa, Scott lived in Lost Nation for awhile, where both his parents were raised, moved to Manchester, West Delaware and Waterloo before settling in Denver, Iowa.
When his parents sold their house in Maquoketa, “I was the cheap labor to help move stuff,” Scott said.
A photographer with scanning equipment and “a passion for history,” Scott requested historical photos and documents when the family divvied up belongings. “I got the mother lode of everything,” Scott said. “I got 90% of it.”
Whenever Scott and his wife moved, totes full of photos and documents went with them. “I’m just lugging this stuff around,” Scott said.
One day, Scott stubbed his toe on one of the totes and decided he had to do something with all that stuff.
“My grandfather was drafted into Korea [from Davenport] in the 1950s,” Scott said. “He took a little Brownie camera with him.”
As Scott looked through a tote, he found the Kodak Brownie camera and photos of soldiers from Korea that his grandfather, Henry Scott, had taken with a it. “He did a really good job of putting the soldiers names and what town they’re from.”
Scott began scanning the photos, creating digital copies. “I wanted to make sure it was preserved.”
But he wanted more than that. Scott decided to look for the soldiers’ families beginning with that of Rudy Brezina. Henry and Rudy grew up about an hour from one another but didn’t meet until they went to Korea, Scott said.
An obituary for Rudy led Scott to Rudy’s wife, Helen, in Tama last year. Scott and Helen Brezina shared photos and stories about Rudy and Henry while Waterloo’s Grout Museum District documented the meeting as part of an oral history project for the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.
Scott continued his quest to find homes for photos and memorabilia last week at the Clinton County museum.
“We get donations all the time, and we’re grateful for every one of them,” said Jan Hansen, a member of the museum board. If the museum doesn’t have room to display something, it goes into the archives. “As we move things around with the new building, there are things that will be on display that are now in storage.”
The historical society will soon begin work on two buildings next door to the museum, creating space into which it can expand exhibits.
Scott pulled item after item from a clear tote last week while Hansen kept an inventory: a marriage certificate for Scott’s great-grandparents, Henry Joseph and Josephine Scott; a certificate of baptism for Edward Ferdinand Schmiedt dated 1899; a Mohr family reunion photo; a Buckhorn Brand Butter thermometer.
A copy of the Clinton Herald dated March 10, 1965 recalls the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama and subsequent demonstrations. Scott’s grandfather served with African-Americans in Korea, he said. “For him to hold on to this, it caught my attention.”
Scott looks for museums and individuals who are connected in some way to the items his family saved. He donated letters from Hugo Schmiedt to the Hardin County Historical Society in Eldora, not simply because it would know what to do with them, but because “they had a passion for it.”
Scott finds comfort in the fact that the photos and memorabilia will be preserved and appreciated.