Saluting the Heroes of Michigan with John Ryder, Executive Director of Michigan Heroes Museum
Subscribe to Our Newsletter to Get Great Episodes Delivered To Your Inbox!
Frankenmuth is one of the top tourist and family destinations in the state of Michigan. Known throughout the world, this exciting city is known for creating wonderful memories for generations of people from all walks of life. From retail shops, indoor dining to outdoor dining and outdoor sporting activities, there’s something for everyone at Michigan’s Little Bavarian. Start planning your next trip at Frankenmuth.org.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:09] Youthful faces peered at the visitor from photographs on the wall and in display cases, some accompanied by pictures of old men and women that the young warriors became. Other faces of those who fell are frozen, exclusively forever in young adulthood. Our mission is to simply honor respect and remember Michigan citizens, personal contributions to our nations, military, and space program.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Call of Leadership podcast. I am your host Cliff DuVernois. What he just read to you was a small part of a wonderful composition written by the staff at the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth. Today we are honored to have the executive director of the Michigan heroes museum on the podcast today. His name is John Ryder. John, how are you?
John Ryder, Michigan Heroes Museum: [00:01:02] I’m doing great Cliff. Thanks for having me on.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:05] Excellent. Tell us a little bit about where you from, where you grew up.
John Ryder: [00:01:10] so I grew up over in Hemlock, Michigan, not too far from here . I absolutely loved everything about my childhood. whether it was, being on the wrestling team or, boys Scouts and, Participating in church and everything. He was just a great childhood.
I had nothing to complain about there. and then, as I grew older, I, I ended up going to college. but, after my two year degree, I, allowed myself to get sidetracked in retail and, became an assistant manager in operations and retail for awhile. worked my way up to. a manager and then it just didn’t seem like anything.
Anything was really happening. it seemed like I was making a difference. whatever I put out one day was gone and I did the same thing the next day, and it didn’t seem fulfilling for me. I know it’s it’s it is fulfilling people need stuff and yeah. And it is a great career for those people feel fulfilled by that, but it just wasn’t for me.
So, eventually I found my way here to the museum and, I now have the best job in the world. I made the mistake of telling a board member once that, it was a greatest job in the world. Heck I’d do it for nothing. He said, really? So.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:24] So I want to take a step back here, cause it, it looks like that you went from a retail into healthcare. Which, actually brought you back to Michigan. Is there something that has, that has kept you in Michigan rather than going out? Cause I know that you spent a stint in New York. Is there something in specifically about Michigan that keeps drawing you back here?
John Ryder: [00:02:46] I absolutely loved Michigan more than just my family. It’s a great place with great people. I’ve been all around the country. I used to own my own consulting firm. And, it’s, it’s amazing to, travel and it’s amazing to meet different people with different ideas from different areas. but I can do that all right here.
Cause a lot of people traveled to Michigan and, and it’s, it’s a wonderful place to call home, whether you’re an outdoors man, or you just like hanging out with people or whatever, whatever it is that you’re into Michigan has a available. So
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:24] excellent. Now you have this very successful career in the health care network. And then at some point in time, you became the executive director of the Michigan heroes museum in Frankenmuth. What, what brought you to the museum in the first place?
John Ryder: [00:03:45] So I, I knew the museum as a, as a child. I didn’t realize that it was the same museum. I thought the museum had had a closed for some reason. They had, they had just moved, though they were down in the Schoolhouse Square Mall. And when that closed, I thought the museum stopped operating. And so I stopped coming to the museum.
I, and I, I missed it, but I didn’t think much of it. other than that, and then, I was a Cub master in a Saginaw, and one of my den leaders actually was on the board of the museum and he said, Hey, I know you probably can’t afford the pay cut, but, you ought to look into coming in and working for us.
We’re looking for an executive director right now. I looked at my two young boys and I thought, you know what, I’m going to have to look at them and tell them to do what they want in life and make sure it’s something that they enjoy. And I want to be able to set that example. so that’s exactly what I did.
I, I talked to my wife at the time and we, we, discussed, You know what it would take. And I just made the leap and said, I’m going to do it. And I’ve never looked back. And like I said, it’s the greatest job in the world.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:02] And I know that you said that the museum used to be in the, in the, in the school house mall. And I actually remember that. Yeah. I probably just dated myself there. The, so I want to talk a little bit about the history of the actual museum itself. Tell us a little bit about the, the original founder of the museum.
John Ryder: [00:05:21] Yeah. So, Stan Bozak, when he was 12, 13 years old, he and his brothers would walk up and down the, the alleyways in Detroit and Detroit Metro area. And, after World War II, I, he. Go through with a wagon and they’d collect, things that were being thrown out by moms and wives, of service men and women that have served.
And so as they went through, they wouldn’t just go pick up the stuff if they could get ahold of who it belonged to, they’d go in and talk to them and, and. Interview them and learn the stories behind the stuff. And I’m not saying that they didn’t, , use it to play with and everything, but they were revered it than anything.
And, that’s where his passion for military collectings began was, In the late forties, early fifties. And then, he, joined the Navy. he served during Korea in the Navy. he got out, he worked as a firefighter in, in Royal Oak, Michigan, and, he, just continued as collecting. And at one point he, and, an associate had come across, battle standard for a, Russian unit.
And they offered, to take it back to Russia and, and present it to the Russian government. I believe it was a world war two, like a division of regimen flag that was. captured by the Germans and then recaptured by the Americans. And, and then it was brought back here and they happened to have possession of it.
And the Soviet government at the time offered them , transportation and a tour on the train Siberian railroad of all kinds of these towns and villages and everything.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:14] that’s so cool.
John Ryder: [00:07:15] Yeah, especially around the art Gainesville area, which we’ll talk about in a little bit here, I’m guessing. But, as he went through, he was looking in every little township, little village.
They had a, A municipal building that would have a library in one corner, a post office in another. And then in just a tiniest corner of this building, they would have, three to five mannequins in, in collections of soldiers from their great patriotic war. which, , we’d know, as world war one, They would have, that set up and in those displays in stories about those individuals and when women in those towns would get married, they’d come and lay their feet at the soul at the, at the feet of the Memorial there.
And it was something that really impressed to Stan and he says, you know what? I’ve already got a collection. I am interested in making this, Into an actual museum and I can do it for instead of just a village or a township. I can do it for the entire state of Michigan. And that’s what he set out to do.
And in 1976, November of 1976, the museum, received its five Oh one, three C status and the rest is history. So it’s been over 43 years now.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:31] Excellent. And how many people have donated individual collections or whatnot to the museum over the years?
John Ryder: [00:08:37] So we’ve got a whole bunch of collections, but the, the way that we look at our collections is. we’ve got collections and then we’ve got stories. So individual stories, collections from an individual that, help tell a particular story of a man or woman that served our country. And, whether they’re an astronaut or a service man or woman, those collections there, we have over 850 collections.
And I only say over 850, cause we, need to go through and recount, I’m sure it’s over 900 now, but I, I don’t know that for frat. but what we do is. We rotate those collections through our museum, we tell about 140 to 150 stories at any given time. And the stories that we tell are amazing.
They’re from a, , we’ve got five governors of the state of Michigan. We’ve got a speaker of the house and of the state of Michigan, his things in here. We’ve got, our current Secretary of State her husband’s, story’s in the museum. We’ve just got. All kinds of amazing things, including, the largest collection of name medals of honor, anywhere in the world on public display.
And you know, who would think that in Frankenmuth, Michigan, you would be able to get that collection together, but Stan was able to do that. And, if you have a moment later on now, I’ll tell you how that came to be. So.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:00] Yes. And we’ll definitely cover that because I’m very interested in the history of the museum. I know that you said Stan was originally from Detroit, Michigan. Why was it decided to put the museum in Frankenmuth?
John Ryder: [00:10:13] that’s a great story. So he actually tried to, Put it down at Fort Wayne in, in Detroit. And he tried looking in a couple of places down in, around there. He had originally, he started Holocaust museum and, that, he did, up in like the Oxford area. But, when, the other Holocaust museum opened and everything, he decided that he was going to do.
pivot in and tell the stories of Michigan service men and women. and, he decided I’m, Frankenmuth because at the time was in, it still is the, largest tourist destination in the state of Michigan. it beats out Mackinaw Island because they’re closed most of the year, but it’s just amazing how many people come to.
And through Frankenmuth. So he wanted that visibility
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:03] One thing that I would like to talk about is that in reading over the composition, the material that you sent me, there was something I didn’t know. See, I’ve always considered myself to be a little bit of a history buff, especially when it becomes to the military and to the U S military, but this was something brand new to me.
And what I want to do is I want to read this portion from the composition that I read at the beginning of the, of the podcast episode. And I don’t think a lot of people really know this out there. So. Let me read this.
Among the veterans that stay in contacted with the surviving world war one, polar bears, the 339th infantry regiment who had fought to the Bolshevik red army.
As part of the allied intervention in the Russian civil war while still training at camp Custer in 1918, the 339th became known as Detroit’s own regiment due to the fact that it was composed almost entirely of Michigan men. The majority of whom had come from Detroit and surrounding areas, the 339th and other elements of the 85th custard division had been sent to North Russia in the closing days of world war one and fought valiantly through the long bitter winter of 1918 and 1919 until their withdrawal in the June of 1919. Now a couple of things about that that really struck me first off. I did not know that the U S actually sent troops into Russia during world war one. That was new to me. number two, I know full well that Napoleon’s army, when he took them into Russia during the winter, they absolutely got their butts kicked.
And somehow these boys from Detroit not only survived to the winter there, but they probably would probably would have kept right on going. Have they not been withdrawn? Tell us, tell us a little bit about this story here.
John Ryder, Michigan Heroes Museum: [00:12:55] so these guys went to camp Custer. They mustered in with the 85th division, as you mentioned. And, most of those guys were drafted other than the noncommissioned officers and the officers. They were largely draftees. And when they, went over, to. England. They thought, like they were told 85th divisions headed down into France and they’re going to go fight the hun in France.
And, but that didn’t happen. They, instead of, doing that, the 339th had elements of the 337th, hospital and ambulance Corps attached to it and the, They also had the three, 10 engineers attached to them and they were sent up the coast a little bit to do training and they were placed under the command of the British, army.
And, from there, after they were done training, they ended up going by boat, up to Archangel Russia, and, In their first casualties were suffered onboard ship because the three ships that they took over had brought back, eh, and brought to England Italian soldiers who had the, the, Spanish influenza and, that knowing everything we know nowadays about sanitation, some of those guys got sick and were buried at sea right on their trip over to Archangel. But of the 5,200 men, most of those guys got there on September 4th when the boats landed, they stayed on the boat overnight. And then on September 5th, 1918, they ended up, disembarking and autumn went right away to go find the Bolsheviks that they had originally been sent up there to retrieve.
or to safeguard the weapons that the Americans and British and French and Canadians and all the weapons that we had sent to Russia to help fight, on the Eastern front. Well, when Russia pulled out of the war, we were afraid that either the Russian though, the red army was going to get those and finished wiping out the white, Russian army and the, the, imperialist, loyalists, or even worse for us, take those weapons and sell them to the Germans.
and have the Germans bring those back across with their 10 or 12 divisions back to the Western front and pummel us with some of our own weapons. Cause that’s never happened before. and that’s really something that they were, they were afraid of. So they, they organized this expedition. They actually the British and French, begged Woodrow Wilson that.
To join them in this and when they did, and these guys got up there, they, those weapons weren’t in the port and that’s the reason why, they hit the ground running and they, when they left the ship there’s Sheba or their bags or the duffles and everything were still all packed down below. And when they took off to go get the, to find the Bolsheviks and to find those weapons.
their winter clothes were all still packed on board ship and they didn’t catch up to them until just over a month later. And these guys were already complaining about how freezing cold it was up there in the middle of October. they never did capture those weapons. and, they just were fighting to keep the Bolsheviks away from the Archangel lane area, tried to, expand the territory that they had and, and still look for them though.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:24] That’s excellent. And it was these kinds of stories that the original founder of the museum Stan, decided that he wanted to start capturing and building the museum.
John Ryder: [00:16:35] absolutely. he, he loved the stories of, of the polar bears. He actually, he was an honorary polar bear, one of the last, honorary polar bears. His brother was the last honorary polar bear. And Stan told them, he said, you know, when I get my museum up and going and everything, I will have a place for your stories to be told indefinitely.
And, since Stan opened the museum, we’ve always had a polar bear section that we rotate stories of those men in and out of, of the 5,500 that served. We’ve got over 60 of their stories here in the museum. And they’re amazing stories of, Bitter retreats and snows, that you just couldn’t hardly walk through.
on sleds pulled by rain gear and, and mules. You couldn’t make it up.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:24] and I have to ask this question because I know you said you’ve got quite the collection of stories in there. This is probably just purely selfish on my part. Are all these stories? Have they been put together in a book that people can purchase that there at the museum?
John Ryder: [00:17:36] we have not yet. we we’ve got we’ve, we’ve got all the stories. They’re all available. Digital. We have not yet put them, to a book. it just due to time, I’ve got myself and two staff members here and, it’s just largely a, A time issue is it, is anything else?
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:54] sure. And the reason why I asked that question is because as I’ve. Yeah, as I’ve gotten older, the types of books, especially when it comes to history. I mean, I love historical fiction. There’s some writers out there that really do put a lot of research into what they write and it really does make you feel like it’s there.
But the only other thing that I found is absolutely comparable is firsthand accounts. You know, somebody’s writing it, using their own words, using their own language. That absolutely makes it feel like it’s there versus somebody who’s just done research and looked at other books and compiled it into a bunch of facts.
John Ryder: [00:18:25] Oh yeah, no, no doubt about it. The journals in the diaries and the, scribble home letters, home and everything here, those are the best. They’re just amazing.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:36] Hey everyone, cliff here. First. I want to take a quick second to thank you for listening and to let you know that we’re going to be back. And we’re going to talk about Michigan’s contribution to the space program and how the museum is working hard to make sure that you and your family are safe. Should you choose to visit?
But first let’s thank our sponsors.
Today’s episode is brought to you by the Frankenmuth convention and visitor’s Bureau.
German architecture, chicken dinners, and the world’s largest Christmas store are just the beginning. Frankenmuth is quickly becoming known for so much more than chicken and Christmas. From trendy dining, the timeless horse drawn carriage rides, kayaking to adventure, parks, ballparks, waterparks, regular parts, sweet Moses.
There’s a lot to do in one trip to Frankenmuth. Visit the must sees of little bit of area, then grab it your crew and find something new, waiting to be discovered, pack a picnic blanket, order takeout from your favorite place and let your kids delight and exploring while soaking up the little moments in life.
Join the generations of families and our hotels during the 170 fifth anniversary season in 2020, the perfect road trip awaits. You start planning your unforgettable family vacation at Frankenmuth.org. Now back to the show.
Welcome back everyone. Now for this next part of our podcast, I could probably talk to you all day about this, but there’s another part of the museum that I want to focus on and I want to read another portion of the composition. And I want to read something else.
The Michigan hero’s museum focuses not just on the military has passed nor just on combat, but the museum also honors the peace time bravery of Michigan’s astronauts and space pioneers from the beginnings of rocket science to the Marvel. Of modern space flight.
And as we’re recording this podcast episode of the manned Space X rocket just went up into space. And I know that that has fired the imaginations of a lot of young people, a lot of kids that are growing up right now.
And I’m very excited about that, but I’m also excited to, to talk with you a bit more about. Michigan’s involvement with the, with the space program. So share with us, share with us some of the thoughts or, or why the decision was made to start including, , the Michigan astronauts in space pioneers as part of the museum.
John Ryder: [00:21:09] so the early Astronauts from Michigan, most of them, were, Out of the military, you know, they came from the military, whether it was a Marine Corps, flying, or a Navy pilot or a Navy doctor or, Air Force or Army. They, they all had flight time as, the, , in, , as a flight surgeon or whatever.
And so they were, largely selected, Out of the military, the guys from Michigan now, approximately half the astronauts, selected early I’m in the, space program. 40 to 50% were a science background and the other 40 are the other 50 to 60% were military. But the ones that actually flew were more military than, than non military.
and so the state of Michigan, we’re lucky to have, be in the heart of the big 10. And, most of these guys went to either Purdue or Ohio or Michigan or Illinois, or, Northwestern, and most of those early astronauts. on top of their military career, they had engineering backgrounds also. And so we’re just in a really great place.
The only, state with more astronauts to their credit, then Michigan, is Ohio. So
Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:28] I tell you as Michigan people were made of something a little bit different.
John Ryder, Michigan Heroes Museum: [00:22:32] right. Exactly.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:34] That’s awesome. And I was actually surprised when I was doing some research for this podcast and I looked up a list of astronauts that have come from Michigan, that one of the astronauts that went to the moon Al warden, He is a Michigander as well. Is any of his, his, any of his, I don’t want to say memorabilia, but any of his awards or anything, is that part of the museum as well?
John Ryder: [00:22:54] Yeah. So we do have a display in ale, unfortunately, Al passed away within the last year here. it was quite a surprise. He was, he was an amazing guy, a good friend. and just, a guy that you’ll never forget, but he absolutely loved his time on Apollo 15. He said that, You had the best job there, even though he never went to the surface of the moon.
And he said, as, as he was in the orbit, he had to, use the Sexton, take readings, make sure they were on the right course to pick the astronauts back up that went to the surface. And, but when they, You said so about 10 minutes worth of work of every hour, other than he says, I was able to look out the porthole back at earth at the sun, at the stars.
And at the moon surface, he says I had the best job ever, because those astronauts that were on the moon, they had to work their tails off in order to collect samples and do all the tests that they were given. So. He said, I wouldn’t have traded place with anybody, plus as a little a gift to him for not going to the surface of the moon.
They allowed him to do, the first space walk, orbiting the moon. That was the first extra. They consider an extra terrestrial spacewalk. And so, when they asked her, I came back from the surface of the moon. He, he ended up doing the spacewalk there and he said it was just absolutely amazing.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:14] Yeah, you hear that Michigan represent
John Ryder: [00:24:17] right.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:18] God. I love these stories. I can sit and listen to this stuff all day now for the, for the museum itself. One of the things that I do want to talk about, and I know I could talk to you about the space program forever. Cause it’s just something that I’ve just been very passionate about ever, ever since.
I grew up in the, in the seventies and I’ve probably drank in probably a hundred gallons of Tang over my, over my span of my lifetime. but one thing I do want to talk about is we’re, we’re just a few weeks away, hopefully from getting the stay at home order lifted. And an article I read that was posted by M live.com said that roughly about 60% of Michiganders are ready to go.
They are ready to hit the road. They are ready to travel. Obviously one of those places is going to be Frankenmuth. Obviously one of the places that they will be heading towards is your museum. And what I’d like to do is just kinda, kind of ask you, , what are, what are some of the measures that you are putting in place so that people can come in and get the experience, be able to connect with, with these Michigan heroes.
but while, while keeping them in their families safe,
John Ryder: [00:25:27] sure. Well, we’re, we’re going to take a look at the, the next orders that come out and as we’re allowed to open, we’re going to follow those to a T. But in addition to that, we’re going to be wiping down. light switches, door handles and everything every 10 to 15 minutes, we’re going to be sanitizing everything throughout the day.
we’re going to be going ahead and, offering masks, to those people who, neglect to bring it or forget to bring him one. we just want to make sure that everybody. I can come in here and can do so in a safe manner, we’ve got a lot of older visitors in and I would hate to, place any of them at risk.
Cause, there are amazing people that we get to come through here that understand what it is that we’re doing and honoring, respecting, and remembering our service men and women and astronauts. And, we’re just going to do everything we can to make sure that they have a safe visit here at the museum.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:20] Yeah, that’s absolutely excellent. Cause I know that, especially in lieu of this podcast, I, I, myself, I obviously I’m not senior citizen, but obviously , I would love to come back over there to, the museum and see what it’s really become. Cause it’s probably been. 20 plus years since, since I have been there, which makes me, I guess, horrible Michigan resident.
so anyways, I do want to get back over there again and, and check it out. So, thank you for, thank you for sharing that with us. If anyone in our audience wants to connect with you or, , follow the museum online, what, what is the best way for them to do that?
John Ryder: [00:26:56] Yeah. So look up a Michigan Heroes Museum on Facebook. that’s that’s a great source. we post stuff up there quite often, or just go to our, website, M I H E R O E s.org. So it’s me, MIHEROES dot org, with an I instead of a Y. So, my heroes.org and, and, Go to Facebook like us, follow us and see what we’re doing.
We’re doing some Facebook lives now and, and we’re getting some of those stories out there for people to be able to enjoy.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:27:27] Excellent. And do you also offer the, I know you said some Facebook lives. Do you also have the virtual tours available on your website?
John Ryder, Michigan Heroes Museum: [00:27:36] not yet, but we’re, we’re, we’re doing those with the, with the Facebook live. Eventually I’ll take those and, do all the best of the best type thing and place them on our, on our website. So.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:27:49] okay. All right. Excellent. And with that, John. I want to thank you so much for being on the podcast today and for covering us and talking to us, about everything that’s on here. I’d love to have you back on, in the future to talk a little bit more in depth. maybe share some of these, really fantastic stories that, that the, , that the museum is having.
So I would really love that opportunity to, to have that.
John Ryder: [00:28:16] that sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to it.
About The Host
About The Host
Cliff is the host of “The Call of Leadership” podcast. He has published over 500 short stories over Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn. He is a passionate lifelong learner, marketer and philanthropist. He currently lives in Reese, Michigan with his fiancé Sherry and her two children.