Missouri Western State University dedicated an interactive memorial to one of the most important journalists of the 20th century and St. Joseph’s most famous native son, Walter Cronkite, on Monday, Nov. 4, which would have been his 97th birthday. The interactive Walter Cronkite Memorial, a 5,000 square-foot display in the atrium of Leah Spratt Hall on the Missouri Western campus, gives visitors the chance to learn more not only about the legendary CBS anchorman’s life but the historic events he covered.
“He loved his birthday; he loved birthday parties; he loved getting presents,” said Kathy Cronkite of her famous father during the dedication ceremony attended by nearly 500 people. “This is the best birthday party he could ever have.”
“The Walter Cronkite Memorial is one of the most rewarding projects I have had the honor of being involved in during my presidency,” said Dr. Robert Vartabedian, Missouri Western’s president. “This icon of American history is one of St. Joseph’s greatest native sons. Now, there will finally be a memorial fitting of his legacy in his hometown.”
Cronkite was born in St. Joseph on Nov. 4, 1916. He went on to anchor the “CBS Evening News” from 1962 to 1981 and was consistently named “The Most Trusted Man in America” in public opinion polls. He first rose to fame as a UPI correspondent during World War II, and went on to bring news of major events to generations of Americans, including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights movement, the moon landing, Vietnam, Watergate and the Iran hostage crisis.Gov. Jay Nixon spoke at the dedication ceremony. “I want to applaud Missouri Western and the Bradley family for spearheading this effort so that today’s students … will continue to learn from and be inspired by the legacy of this great Missourian now and for generations to come.”
Major components of the Walter Cronkite Memorial include:
- Historical Photograph Display and Video Kiosk: Eric Fuson and David Harris, faculty members in Missouri Western’s Department of Art, designed a display approximately 9 feet wide by 21 feet tall containing 39 images of world and national events covered during Cronkite’s years as the CBS Evening News anchor. The presentation of the images suggests the shape of a television screen. At the video kiosk, visitors will be able to select one of the images and watch Cronkite’s coverage of the event.
- World War II Combat Glider Model: Hanging from the ceiling near the front entrance of the Spratt Hall Atrium is a replica of a glider that carried Cronkite behind enemy lines during Operation Market Garden in Holland during World War II.
- St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce Plaque and Video Display: A large plaque commemorates a 1969 speech Cronkite delivered in St. Joseph defending freedom of the press. The speech was broadcast on the CBS program “60 Minutes.” Visitors can watch the speech on a nearby television screen.
- Betsy Maxwell Cronkite: The photographic display tells the story of Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Cronkite, Walter’s wife of nearly 65 years.
- Cronkite Timeline and Video Kiosk: The large timeline chronicles Cronkite’s life from his birth in St. Joseph to his death July 17, 2009. The timeline includes photos and information from his life as a news reporter and anchor as well as his personal life. The nearby video kiosk allows visitors to see Cronkite’s memories of many of these events.
- NASA Exploration: Several large photo panels depict NASA’s exploration of space, reflecting Cronkite’s deep interest in the space program.
- Memorabilia Case: A case displays memorabilia from Cronkite’s life, some donated and some on loan from the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Items include press passes and model rockets used as visual aids during Cronkite’s coverage of the space program, one of the many Emmy Awards won by Cronkite, autographed copies of Cronkite’s memoir “A Reporter’s Life,” and more.
- Hirschfeld Caricatures: The memorial includes caricatures of Cronkite and other celebrities by well-known artist Al Hirschfeld.
- Missouri Colleges and Universities: This map of Missouri and its higher education institutions was previously on display at the Missouri State Capitol. Cronkite lent his voice to this interactive display.
The permanent memorial is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit www.waltercronkitememorial.org or call 816-271-4100.
Missouri Western State University is a comprehensive regional university providing a blend of traditional liberal arts and professional degree programs. The university offers student-centered, high quality instruction that focuses on experience-based learning, community service, and state-of-the-art technology. Missouri Western is located in St. Joseph, Mo., and is committed to the educational, economic, cultural and social development of the region it serves. Visit www.missouriwestern.edu.