By Wally Kennedy
When Brad Belk started as the director of the Joplin Museum Complex 25 years ago, he was paid $246 a month after taxes. Being the historical preservationist that he is, he still has the stub from that first check in 1987.
On Friday, Belk was recognized for his public service to the community by a number of organizations in a special ceremony at the museum.
Describing himself as a ’70s kind of guy, Belk used the check stub to emphasize that for him, it was never about the money — it was the cause.
“I could have never dreamed the journey that would happen when I got this job,’’ he said. “My life changed for the best.’’
When he started, Belk said, he did whatever needed to be done to keep the museum running. That included cleaning the toilets, taking out the trash, giving tours and answering the phone. At the same time, he held down two other jobs. He did that for the first five years or so. There was not much time for preserving history.
“I knew there was a museum audience out there, but I wanted to find a new audience,’’ he said. “I wanted to introduce our history at a different level and to a different audience. That’s when the books started happening.’’
The books provided him with vehicles to explore specific subjects in detail, using the pictorial and written resources of the museum. He is now on his eighth book, a history of Missouri Southern State University, and his 14th film, a history of the Tri-State Mining District for Ozark Public Television.
Belk, a native of Joplin, was introduced to history at the University of Missouri. He went there after his high school advisers had suggested that he wasn’t university material. He took an art history course that changed his life.
“What we have done together is so very meaningful — preserving history is a cause,’’ he said.
Belk said the future of the museum is bright and that retirement is not in his immediate future. He commended his staff, Chris Wiseman and Dina Taylor, for their invaluable assistance, and his wife, Belinda, for her support.
“I have been blessed and fortunate, and that includes Percy Katz who came in off the street and has been so much a part of my life,’’ Belk said.
Percy, a gray feline, is the museum’s official greeter.
About 50 people were on hand for the ceremony. Belk received resolutions and acknowledgments from the city of Joplin, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, the commissions of Newton and Jasper counties, the Joplin School District, the Missouri Legislature, U.S. Rep. Billy Long and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.
The ceremony for Belk was organized by Allen Shirley, president of the museum board.
Said Shirley: “He has given 25 years of his life to public service to help this community in any way he can. I can’t think of anybody who deserves this recognition more than Brad.’’