Remembering Our Veterans: the Tipton County Museum

Nestled in Covington, Tennessee, the Tipton County Museum is truly a hidden gem. It is far from simply a ‘museum.’ It is a museum, a Veterans’ Memorial, and a Nature Center all in one. As their official website explains, the building is located atop the largest urban park in Tipton County! In addition to the history-filled indoor area of the museum, it also includes a wonderfully kept outdoor Memorial for Veterans, a half-mile long nature trail, a shaded area for family picnics, a garden courtyard, and gorgeous flowers year-round. As I walked in, I was greeted by all kinds of local history. At the very front of the museum, animal artifacts and fragments are displayed. They even have dinosaur fragments that were found here in Tipton County! Also upon entering, on the righthand side, is the Museum gift shop ‘Gioiello,’ (it’s Italian for ‘jewelry’!), which sells handmade jewelry, artwork, and even books written by local authors - everything sold within it is made by someone here in Tipton County. Along the walls are countless pieces of artwork created by people of all ages - the Museum Director, Barrie Foster, is truly passionate about art and she features it throughout the museum. She offers art classes at the museum for both children and adults alike, no previous experience required.

    Their sports’ history collection is very impressive, including the jersey of Johnnie Jones and a portrait of Harvey Kendrick from Covington. As of today, Kendrick is the only baseball player from Tipton County to have won a World Series. He also played alongside the great Babe Ruth! The program coordinator and archivist, Sherri Onorati, pointed out a baseball player’s portrait and said, “This little tiny town, Tipton County, and you have someone who played with Babe Ruth.”

    However, as you continue walking along the displays, you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by incredible expansive military history, the highlight of the whole museum. Onorati and others who work at the museum, many of whom are volunteers, are clearly very passionate about every piece of history the museum harbors. Onorati kindly offered me an in-depth tour throughout the museum. She explains, “In our military section, in World War 1, there were 6 men who got the Medal of Honor in Tennessee. Tipton County had the very first one. This is Sgt Joseph Bernard Adkinson...He was born in Atoka. He took out a German platoon with machine guns and he jumped in there and got the guns away from them. That’s pretty amazing.” She continued, “Everyone pictured in here is from Tipton County. We’ve got General James Portis, who was an Air Force General. He was part of the Sky Blazers...the predecessor to the Thunderbirds.” Moving along and pointing at the many displays, she explained, “Captain Tanner is one of our most famous guys...he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for six-and-a-half years. He’s one of the gentleman who helped start the Museum...They considered him dangerous because they couldn’t break him. When he was released in 1973, he didn’t get out...he stayed in the military until 1985. And he stayed in the museum. He is an amazing man.” Today, the museum even features his drawings. Many of the soldiers featured in the the museum are volunteers for the museum to this day or were until they passed away.

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    Against the back wall of the museum, Onorati was eager to point out the area dedicated to women who have served. In the past, she explained, women were often discharged if they got married or had children. Thankfully, that has now changed! Onorati served as a woman in the United States Navy — as the Chief Petty Officer and as a journalist. Her uniform is proudly displayed in the museum today, with the journalist patch on the sleeve. “When I came in, in ‘84, it was much easier. When I got married I could stay in, and when I started having children, it was an option to stay in. Back then, they didn’t have an option.” “We’ve got Dr. Ellingston who was a country doctor that delivered babies. His family gave us all of his books. These were records of everybody he helped give birth to.”

    Onorati and Foster has big plans for the museum’s expansion in the coming years. She explained, “Our new section I’m involved in is going to be all about Tipton County History. You can’t be called Tipton County Museum and not have Tipton County History. Inside the museum you can find all about the nature that’s in West Tennessee and Tipton County. We have an exhibit for Isaac Hayes — who was born in Covington. Another Tipton County area will hopefully be about our schools — at some point Tipton County had 100 schools.” When asked whether they had a timeframe for the completion of these projects, Onorati said, “Within this next year. We’re making use of the space to do those sorts of exhibits. I’m waiting for Home Depot to get me my walls.” They also plan to build a section for businesses and entertainment, such as the Ruffin Theater in Covington, and hope to offer an African American history section to honor the African Americans who have bravely served.  

   The museum contains a sizeable conference room, in which they feature a veteran speaker on every second Tuesday of each month at 6:30. The wall of the room is adorned with bricks with letters writing out the names of honorable veterans.

     They offer genealogy classes as well as a “Gardening Lecture Series,” in which gardeners can learn all about gardening for the upcoming season. They even offer a program that allows local schools to go on a field trip for only $5. As she explained the long list of things the museum has to offer, I was astonished that I was just now learning that Tipton County was home to such a wonderful place.

    As you walk outside the back door of the museum, the sight is breathtakingly gorgeous. The wooded area contains flowers, butterflies, and a memorial to Veterans. For many of the veterans who generously volunteer at the museum, they find comfort and serenity in being at the museum and surrounded by military history. One of these is Mr. Andy Duvanent, a 94-year old veteran who served in both World War Two and the Korean War, as well as the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Andy comes to the museum at least twice a week. Before the end of my tour, I thankfully got to meet the Museum Director, Barrie Foster. She explained, “We have something for everybody here. We have local history, veteran’s history, we have nature...We are free to the public, as we are generously funded by the city of Covington and Tipton County and our members and sponsors. We rely on them. We are trying to make the museum more visible to everyone in the area, not something that is hidden anymore.”

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    The trip to the Tipton County Museum is definitely worth making. The quiet atmosphere is hard to beat, and they are so warm and welcoming. Admission is free to the public, but remember, they are a non-profit organization and depend on people like you! While they receive funding from the Tipton County government and the City Government, they greatly depend on their members. If you would to become a member yourself, the standard rate is just $25. The building holds so much history that many people are completely unaware of, which is why the hard-working people at the museum find it to be so important to showcase the rich history that Tipton County has to offer. For more information or if you have any historical items for the museum to see - they are always looking to add to their collection - you can call (901) 476 - 0242 or visit their Facebook page. The best way to learn more about the museum, however, is to stop by 751 Bert Johnston Ave in Covington and see for yourself.