OCHLOCKNEE — After a delayed restoration process, Popes Museum is finally unveiling its expansion and rededication of the Gold Star Mothers Memorial this Saturday at 2 p.m. 

Thanks to Thomas University art professor Richard Curtis and his students, the life-sized grieving mother statue that was removed from the memorial sometime between 2015 and 2017 will stand tall once again in a replicated form.

The Gold Mother Star Memorial was created by Laura Pope Forester to honor mothers who lost their children in the U.S. armed forces.

“Now the historic side is rehabilitated and then we extended it,” Michelle Dean, owner of Popes Museum, said.

The memorial expansion honors those killed in action during the Korean and Vietnam wars, which was an important aspect in some of Forester’s artwork that dates back to around the 1950s. 

The completed first phase of the preservation project would not have been possible without community support.

Over 45 businesses and individuals partnered with Popes Museum Preservation Inc. to move the project along, Dean said.

“We really want to say thank you for that incredible outpouring of support from the state and south Georgia," she said. 

Community support also has made Popes Museum a strong tourist attraction for not just Grady County.

Dean recalls having close to 4,000 visitors throughout the past few years.

“We are really building heritage tourism,” she said.

Being able to not only honor Foresters legacy but also fallen veterans is what Dean said will create a better America for future veterans. 

“If we want to build a strong America, we have to learn to say thank you," she said. “That’s very important to me to learn to say thank you to our veterans and first responders. This is such a patriotic community that believes that.”

The memorial unveiling comes at a time of great news as Dean was notified last Friday that Popes Museum was unanimously voted to be on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“We are truly blessed to be able to be stewards of a national treasure,” she said.

With the momentum of accomplishments rolling in, Dean is looking forward to doing more work in the preservation project including plans to make pathways ADA compliant and upgrade the eastern side of the gardens.

“For us to go this far in three years, we’re pretty excited about the next few years,” she said. “We’re going to continue to use the plans and do tours.”

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