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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Saturday, September 29, 2012

Churchill and Missouri

FULTON, Mo. – Stopping at the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library on the campus of Westminster College is like finding an oasis in the desert.

While it is a well-known landmark and easy to find — being just south of Interstate 70, which runs across the state from St. Louis to Kansas City — its presence is curious, as you would not expect to find such a salient attraction in such a small, out-of-the-way setting.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the Kappa Alpha fraternity house, located just down the street, was the scene of social and musical activity as the weekend approached.

College boys doing the thing college boys do everywhere, reaching the point in the week where academic demands are subordinated to social objectives for a few days. Their energy and routine suggested that party time had come to this private liberal arts campus. Downtown traffic moved at a leisurely pace, and the shops displayed homemade signs focused on attracting students for shopping.

A brief visit here was a pleasant respite in a refreshing and becoming atmosphere. Fulton has a population of 12,790 and likely appreciates the visitors that the Churchill Museum brings to town.

I did wonder, however, just how many students and locals have spent time at this jewel of an attraction, which is at their fingertips. I must have driven by Stone Mountain a score of times or more before stopping and making it to the top of the mountain.

Anything Churchill has always been alluring and enlightening. A man of genius who loved the language like no other, who enjoyed brandy and a cigar, and whose classic phrases and bent for humor have drawn countless admirers.

Case in point is his response to Lady Astor, who told him that if he were her husband, she would poison his drink.

“Madam,” he replied, if you were my wife, I would drink it.”

Most of all we remember his words to the British after Dunkirk in June 1940 when all hope seemed to have vanished, as Hitler’s armies were rolling roughshod throughout Europe: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. . . . We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

To spend time with Churchill artifacts, which represent his influence on world affairs, brings about a sense of having a piece of history in the palm of your hand. Then there was the added bonus of the church where the library is located. Benefactors created an opportunity for a Christopher Wren church, which had largely been destroyed by German bombs in 1941, to be relocated and restored at Fulton.

The idea belonged to Westminster’s president Robert L. D. Davidson in 1961. His idea was a bold as that of a predecessor, Dr. Franc L. McCluer, who dreamed up the idea to invite Churchill to speak at Westminster during Harry Truman’s White House Years.

A letter of invitation, routed through the White House, was signed by Truman, advising Churchill that the president would introduce him. When Churchill accepted McCluer’s invitation and made his “Sinews of Peace” speech about Communism, his remarks became more than a footnote in history: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

That is when “Iron Curtain” became a part of our lexicon. Appropriately, on the church lawn is a section of the Berlin Wall, which Churchill never lived to see destroyed.

You can explore the life and times of Churchill here in the midsection of Missouri in the heart of the Midwest in a small college town in a laidback atmosphere.

Makes you wonder, if you leisurely drove across the country, how many places like Fulton you would find.

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