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Vietnam veteran to launch special programs at Toronto museum

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PIECES OF THE PAST — Carolyn Walker, left, and Linda McFerren of the Historical Society of Toronto stand by the World War I uniform worn by Dr. Robert Schilling of New Somerset and the footlocker he used while serving as a medic in England. The items are the latest additions to the group’s Main Street Museum, which moved last year to the Karaffa Recreation Center and is slated to feature a series of special programs starting on May 19. — Warren Scott

TORONTO — Members of the group behind the Main Street Museum want more people to see the wide variety of historic items they have collected at its new location in the Karaffa Recreation Center and are planning a series of special events to attract more visitors.

The first, set for May 19, will feature the Rev. Mike Bongart, a retired local pastor who nearly died while serving as a combat pilot in the Vietnam War.

Bongart was almost left for dead after sustaining a shrapnel wound to his head after being forced to land his helicopter in a rice paddy.

He will share how his life was saved by a dedicated Army medic with whom he has remained friends more than 50 years later.

Carolyn Walker and Linda McFerren, members of the Historical Society of Toronto, said the museum will open at 1 p.m. that day, and Bongart will speak soon afterward.

They said it’s the first in a series of special events planned for the third Sunday of each month through the summer.

McFerren said the events could include a visiting speaker, special guest who will meet informally with visitors or a one-time exhibit and are designed to draw more people to the museum.

The group has been very happy with the additional space available to it since moving the museum from its previous location on Main Street to the former art room of the old Karaffa School at 1307 Dennis Way.

In recent years, the building was acquired by the city and has become home to the Toronto High School Alumni Association and other groups.

Walker said in addition to the special Sunday programs, the museum is slated to be open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each Tuesday beginning this week.

She and McFerren said past visitors will find some new additions, including the Army uniform of Dr. Robert Schilling, a local physician who served as a first lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps in England, and his military footlocker.

Among the latter’s contents was a letter Schilling had written to his 12-year-old son back home.

Walker and McFerren said they learned Schilling practiced medicine in Knoxville following graduation from the Ohio State University School of Medicine and ultimately settled in New Somerset.

There he was known as an avid gardener and beekeeper and is said to have provided, for $2, a medical exam, pertinent medications, a tour of his garden and some of his homegrown produce.

Donations to the museum and questions from the public often have led members of the historical association to delve into local history.

A reflection of that tendency is a new exhibit entitled “So Now You Know!,” which features the stories behind people whose names continue to leave a mark on Toronto.

McFerren said the idea behind the display, which occupies a large section of the former classroom’s blackboard, was to answer such questions as “The Daniels Building — why is it called that? Or the S.C. Dennis School — who was that?”

Walker said among the many individuals featured is Michael Myers, a government scout during the American Revolution and an early settler of Toronto, establishing a grist mill and tavern in the Croxton Run area.

She said Myers’ brother, George, had given him 100 acres of land, which he later sold to John Depuy, a real estate developer who established Newburg, the forerunner of Toronto.

A local street and an apartment complex bear his name.

“These people touched the lives of the residents of Toronto,” she said.

To further raise awareness of the museum and city, the Historical Society of Toronto is selling several stickers bearing logos for the museum; the Toronto Tribune, a newspaper that served the community for many years; the River Rat character created by local author Bob Petras and other images.



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