Old Soldier Taught New Tricks in Van Wert

By Eric Olson

March 12, 2014 Updated Mar 12, 2014 at 12:40 PM EDT

VAN WERT, Ohio--For 76 years the Van Wert Armory was the local home of the Ohio National Guard. But when guard headquarters moved the building sat vacant. One week before the wrecking ball was scheduled to pummel it into dust, the Van Wert Armory got a reprieve.

Welcome to Van Wert’s impressive new Wassenberg Art Center, a place for art and celebration and creativity in a building that once stored weapons. The immense drill hall, transformed…to gallery space for art exhibitions…a huge stage for live music and dramatic performances. A lounge and a bar for community gatherings…and classrooms for art classes and demonstrations.

“It’s been wonderful,” says director Hope Wallace. “We have wedding receptions scheduled we host meetings we’re having what we call where people come in and paint…drink some wine, gather with friends.”

The Wassenberg Art Center was born here in 1954, in the home of local philanthropists Charles and Vera Wassenberg who left their home and fortune to the town for an art complex. Fifty years later the cramped space was sold and the old armory purchased and renovated, opening for business in October. The building sports three foot thick concrete walls, beautiful bead board ceilings and steel and concrete everything.

“It is a fortress,” Wallace says, “and I didn’t show you the vault where my tornado room is; steel doors, concrete walls. That used to be ammunition storage and gunpowder but we store artwork in there now.”

Van Wert has embraced its art center, celebrating the rise of the new from the ashes of the old…proving that old soldiers don’t have to die or fade away…they can be reassigned to civilian duty and continue serving their corner of 21 Country. This is Eric Olson reporting.

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