2006.07.30: July 30, 2006: Headlines: COS - Korea: Museums: Omaha World-Herald: Interviews with Korean War veterans, historians and other financial backers from Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Illinois have revealed a trail of disappointment left by Korea RPCV Kyle Kopitke as he has pitched war museums across the country

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Korea: Peace Corps Korea : The Peace Corps in Korea: July 18, 2004: Headlines: COS - Korea: Museums: Honolulu Advertiser: RPCV Kyle Kopitke is director and president of the National Korean War Museum in Wahiawa : 2006.07.30: July 30, 2006: Headlines: COS - Korea: Museums: Omaha World-Herald: Interviews with Korean War veterans, historians and other financial backers from Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Illinois have revealed a trail of disappointment left by Korea RPCV Kyle Kopitke as he has pitched war museums across the country

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-129-40-161.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.129.40.161) on Wednesday, August 02, 2006 - 9:15 am: Edit Post

Interviews with Korean War veterans, historians and other financial backers from Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Illinois have revealed a trail of disappointment left by Korea RPCV Kyle Kopitke as he has pitched war museums across the country

Interviews with Korean War veterans, historians and other financial backers from Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Illinois have revealed a trail of disappointment left by Korea RPCV Kyle Kopitke as he has pitched war museums across the country

The building in Edgar -- given to Kopitke for $1 on the pledge that he would make it into a museum -- is the fifth Korean War museum either pitched or opened by Kopitke. The first two -- $6 million proposals in Cedar City, Utah, and in Hawaii -- never got off the ground. The next two, in Wahiawa, Hawaii, and Oxford, operated for only a few months before a lack of funds closed them.

Interviews with Korean War veterans, historians and other financial backers from Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Illinois have revealed a trail of disappointment left by Korea RPCV Kyle Kopitke as he has pitched war museums across the country

Tourism dreams are dashed

Jul 30, 2006

Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Caption: A vintage set of U.S. Marine Corps dress blues and an A-frame Korean backpack are among the items curator Kyle Kopitke has on display in the 38 galleries of the National Korean War museum in Oxford. (Eric Gregory)

Jul. 30--NELSON, Neb. -- When Kyle Kopitke came to this small farm town last year, he pitched hope, patriotism and glory.

The 49-year-old former Peace Corps worker said he could turn an old schoolhouse into a stirring war museum that would attract hundreds of visitors to the community of 587.

Kopitke, who was operating a Korean War museum in an old nursing home in Oxford, Neb., urged Nelson officials to decide quickly, because he was negotiating with other towns.

He gave Nelson a list of 41 demands, from $10,000 in cash to picking up his moving expenses and cable television for a year.

After a public meeting, the town board accepted.

"It sounded like we'd better jump on this before we lost out," said then-Mayor Scott Stemper. "We bought it hook, line and sinker."

Today, Kopitke is a virtual outcast in his own museum, where he lives in a basement apartment with his wife and son, after alienating volunteers and town leaders in Nelson.

Trouble began in February, when a Friends of the Museum group in Nelson severed ties with Kopitke after he refused to disclose museum finances and threatened to sue.

In June, Kopitke was arrested on suspicion of trespassing before dawn in the former Oxford museum, which had closed in December. He is scheduled to stand trial on Aug. 14.

Recently, the Nebraska Attorney General's Office said it is investigating complaints about Kopitke's fundraising and memorabilia- collecting activities.

Included is a look at Kopitke's operation of a Korean War National Museum in Edgar, Neb., as a "private, non-operating foundation." Such foundations are designed to collect donations and then pass them on to other organizations as grants.

Using donated funds to operate a museum run by the foundation is not allowed under Internal Revenue Service rules.

The Hawaii Attorney General's Office had conducted a similar probe of Kopitke, who operated a Korean War museum there until foreclosure.

That probe was dropped when Kopitke moved to Oxford in 2004, accepting that small town's offer of moving expenses, a car and free utilities.

Kopitke has refused several requests for interviews, saying he cannot talk because of the pending trespassing case.

But interviews with Korean War veterans, historians and other financial backers from Texas, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Illinois revealed a trail of disappointment left by Kopitke as he has pitched war museums across the country.

At each stop, big ideas never panned out, or resulted in half- finished museums operated on a shoestring. The stories end with Kopitke leaving behind disputes over money and donated items -- and dashed hopes.

"Veterans have given money and property to Kopitke and they don't get very much in return, except for heartache," said Lynnita Brown, a Tuscola, Ill., historian.

Her Korean War Educator Web site features a section on Kopitke, who, she said, has pitched museum proposals in Oklahoma, New York, Michigan and Arkansas.

Kopitke recently said he still is pursuing a dream of a "trail" of seven military museums across Nebraska, and has approached the towns of Chester, Trumbull and Alliance.

With the exception of Alliance, the towns Kopitke has approached in Nebraska all have been struggling, rural towns of fewer than 1,000 people, where a "tourist" is someone who travels somewhere else.

Officials in Oxford, Nelson and Edgar all said they were willing to take a risk with Kopitke because any tourism is better than none.

"Economic development in a small community is different than it is in Omaha or Lincoln," said Wayne Garrison, the city attorney in Nelson.

In Nelson, more than $30,000 was invested to help Kopitke open the Vietnam War National Museum last September.

Few people visit what is little more than a collection of laminated pages from magazines and newspapers of the Vietnam era tacked onto display boards.

In Edgar, the story is much the same. Small paper signs on the doors of an old brick schoolhouse proclaim it the National Korean War Museum, which opened this spring. A sign says it is open three hours each Saturday or by appointment.

The building in Edgar -- given to Kopitke for $1 on the pledge that he would make it into a museum -- is the fifth Korean War museum either pitched or opened by Kopitke. The first two -- $6 million proposals in Cedar City, Utah, and in Hawaii -- never got off the ground. The next two, in Wahiawa, Hawaii, and Oxford, operated for only a few months before a lack of funds closed them.

Kopitke, a native of Naperville, Ill., has left bitterness among several veterans who have volunteered dozens of hours to build displays for his museums, or have donated valued war memorabilia to him.

Dale Bruha, 77, a Korean War veteran from Milford, Neb., is seeking to recover a Marine dress uniform and 48-star American flag he donated.

"We should have signed something, but everyone was so thrilled that we were getting a Korean War museum," he said.

Bruha said Kopitke has been evasive when he tried to recover his items, although two other veterans said they did get their memorabilia back.

Some veterans elsewhere lost thousands of dollars in Kopitke's ventures.

Michael Pama, a disabled Vietnam veteran from Honolulu, said he lost his $300,000 home after investing in Kopitke's short-lived National Korean War Museum in Wahiawa.

Pama said he was "investing" in the project; Kopitke said such funds were donated.

"The worst thing is, he preys on the hearts of Korean War vets," said Hal Barker, a Korean War historian from Dallas who operates the Korean War Project Web site. Barker has complained to the IRS and Nebraska and Hawaii officials about Kopitke's activities.

Because Kopitke has refused to disclose financial information, it's difficult to tell how much has been given to him through his Web site or by veterans who visit his museums.

One veteran who still supports Kopitke is John Dunn, a Stow, Mass., businessman and Korean War vet who met Kopitke at the museum in Hawaii.

Dunn, 73, said he has given Kopitke between $14,000 and $16,000 and a Dodge pickup. He said he was not aware of Kopitke's arrest, or the dilapidated appearance of the museum in Edgar, which Kopitke dedicated to Dunn and his wife.

Dunn said he has questioned the remote locations of Kopitke's museums but doesn't think he would deceive anyone.

"Sometimes you have good intentions but don't have the money to carry it out," he said. "Maybe he tries to do too much too quickly."

What happens next is unclear.

Kopitke is rarely seen in Nelson or Edgar, though the museums appear to remain open. In Nelson, his free utilities and Internet service ran out June 1, stoking rumors that he'll move.

But Kopitke recently paid up the insurance on the museum and obtained an extension to meet his $2,000-a-year payment on the building -- indications that he might stay.

Some, like Vietnam veteran Chuck Tuttle of Nelson, said they no longer can work with Kopitke.

"We're just hoping that he'll pack up and let us have (the museum)," Tuttle said.





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Story Source: Omaha World-Herald

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