Fight over future of WWI memorial statue goes to court

A statue erected in honor of fallen soldiers during World War I, including Wentworth cadets, stands outside Wentworth Military Academy. Wentworth's alumni association came to agreement with Bank Midwest to take possession of the statue. 

The Wentworth Military Academy Alumni Association won a major victory in its fight to reclaim the beloved “Doughboy” statue that has been on display at the Wentworth campus since 1923.

The statue, which was dedicated to honor the Wentworth cadets who died in World War I, was set to be auctioned off alongside property of Wentworth Military Academy, which closed at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year.

Bank Midwest, which holds liens on Wentworth property, had gained possession of the statue, but the alumni association argued that because the alumni bought the statue and dedicated it in 1923, it remains the rightful owner.

On Tuesday, 15th Circuit Court Judge Dennis Allen Rolf granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the statue from being auctioned off. Subsequently, Bank Midwest and the alumni association came to an agreement to transfer possession of the statue to the alumni association.

“In the end, the parties came together and made it happen, and it is a very successful outcome,” said George Hittner, the attorney for the alumni association. Hittner is also a Wentworth alumnus.

The temporary restraining order and the subsequent agreement to transfer possession of the statue mark an informal conclusion to what had turned into a highly contentious legal debate between the alumni association, Wentworth and Bank Midwest.

Jim Sellers, a Wentworth alumnus and the great-great-grandson of Stephen G. Wentworth, the founder of Wentworth Military Academy, was one of the leaders in the fight to save the statue.

“We are thrilled to be recognized as the rightful owners of the doughboy,” Sellers said. “Justice was done.”

Hittner said he and the attorneys for Bank Midwest spent most of the day prior to Tuesday’s hearing in “intense negotiations.” Once the temporary restraining order was granted, the agreement to transfer possession of the statue was complete.

“The statue is off the auction block, period,” Hittner said.

Now that the fate of the doughboy statue appears to be secure, the alumni association is turning its attention to other memorabilia that it believes was wrongfully claimed as property of Wentworth, such as photos, uniforms, and business records. However, Hittner is confident that these items will also be transferred into possession of the alumni association.

“The bank and the school have all agreed to work through those issues to make sure that some of the historical documents and scrapbooks and stuff that were kept by the alumni all these years are transferred to the alumni association as well,” Hittner said.

The alumni association has not yet decided what do with the statue, but the idea of housing it in a museum has been considered.

  • Public Life Reporter at the Columbia Missourian

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