Fromme mounts room has wondersSeptember 22, 2021
By LARRY LAGRANGE
Tom Kellams is understandably enthused as he discusses almost any aspect of the Dubois County Museum. He’s had a special role in the development of this project, surely one of the largest and most extensive county museums in the state. Kellams has also played a significant part in the development of the Frank Fromme wildlife mounts room.
“I once had a fellow call me who wanted a personal tour of the room,” he said. “He was pretty quiet as I showed him the setup. Afterwards he told me that this room didn’t belong in a small town like Jasper. I wasn’t sure what he meant. Then he said that the exhibit belonged in a major metropolitan area. It turns out, he was a curator from New York traveling areas of the country checking out various museums. Someone had told him that he had to see the wildlife room at the Dubois County Museum.”
Jasper native Frank Fromme owned a construction company, which over the years had allowed him the means and time to take exotic hunting trips and harvest, legally at that time, a variety of exotic animals. Fromme had stored his mounts in a 900-square foot part of his house on 36th Street. When he died in 1994, his collection of mounts stayed in his house.
“One of the family members called me a few years after his death,” Kellams said. At that time, the family needed to have the collection of mounts out of the home.
Kellams asked them about housing them at the museum. Their response was that they just didn’t want to see this huge collection leave the area, so they were fine with that plan. Kellams figured the museum was the place where the public could get a look at the extensive collection. The family also thought the museum was a good place for them.
The first problem was the need for temporary housing for the display, until a space could be created for it at the museum. So, Kellams and Bernie Vogler from the museum contacted Larry Schuler and Don Book at the REC and inquired about their building for sale on the south end of town. Their response was, since they had moved to a new building on the other end of town, that the old building was empty and at least until it sold (eventually to WBDC) that the space could be used for the mounts.
“I had the mounts out there for at least a year,” Kellams said. “I told the museum that I needed at least 2,000 square feet, so that’s what I got. I went to Universal Design in Ferdinand to work on some drawings of the space. I went to various clubs and presented the idea and it kind of snowballed after that. The Kerstiens Group told me they would do all the structural work and Jasper Lumber furnished the three-quarter-inch plywood mounted to the structures to hold the mounts. The Jasper Group said they would fund the interior wall covering. Krempp Lumber Company furnished the floor covering and the ceiling tile. Woebkenburg Contruction from Ferdinand leveled the floor and installed the floor covering. Hulsman Electric from Ireland offered to do all the electrical work. Things were looking up.”
Retired carpenters who had worked with Kellams on the museum’s impressive Village display donated their time. “Those guys did a great job. Then I talked to Tom Schum about doing a mural. Tom and some other guys went up to Patoka Lake one Sunday and took a bunch of photos. One scene they really liked turned into the mural that we have now. So that scene exists somewhere up at Patoka. Tom did all the layout but it was a family effort. His daughter Kim (Schroeder) assisted and his wife Sue helped also.”
In the area below the mural are animals and birds located in a striking display. These were donated by many of the local sportsmen in the county. Kellams wanted to identify many of the local hunters and fishermen from the county so he asked Universal Design to add a “Dubois County Sportsmen” picture wall in the room design. It contains several pictures of local hunters and fishermen with their trophies.
One non-Fromme aspect of the room other than bass fisherman Jim Brang’s material (more on that in a later column) was an eagle that Kellams procured from Jasper High School.
“That eagle was originally part of the old Jasper college,” Kellams said. “When that disbanded, a member of the Seng family got it, but the state found out about it and said that the bird had to be in a school or museum or some such facility. So the high school took it and used it in their art room. One day the principal, Brian Wilson, called me and asked if I’d like to have that eagle for the Fromme room. I said I’d love to. It wasn’t easy getting the permit to do it, but it worked out. An office from Minnesota got involved and told me they’d have to come down here to move the eagle to the high school because they were ‘in charge of this area.’ I told them that was crazy but they insisted. I called Indianapolis then and one of the officials up there laughed and told me to go ahead and move the mount to the high school and she’d have the permit to me within a week. I told people that if they saw my name in the paper for going to jail it would have been over that eagle. The Minnesota people never showed up.”
Another display not from the Fromme collection involves birds inside the fenced-off area. These were obtained from the Abbey at St. Meinrad and from people locally who donated to the collection.
“Frank got the polar bear in Alaska so we put that one front and center,” Kellams said. “Tom Schum’s son Eric was looking for an Eagle Scout project so I told him I’d like the polar bear to be standing on an ice floe along with a seal. So, with Eric’s and Tom’s help we ended up with a fine- looking display of cotton that looked realistic. It looks like the seal is ready to dive in his hole in the ice. The black, grizzly, and brown bears also came from Frank.”
The albino deer towards the rear of the room came from Ferdinand and the cinnamon bear, the mountain lion, and the bison mounts were donated by Chris Uebelhor.
Most of the taxidermy work on the bigger mounts was done by western artists in Idaho and Washington state but some was done locally. Roger Sermersheim and other local fellows worked on some of the animals. Kellams would like more fish mounts and some area fishermen have told him they would eventually donate their prize wall-hangers.
The all-LED lights make the room economical for the museum. There’s not much extra expense for housing the collection, other than a little extra needed for heating and air conditioning.
“It was a lot of work but it all turned out really well,” Kellams said. “People have been coming from a distance to take a look, so the word’s getting around the state. One of my favorite memories is when I gave a tour to a group of kids from the Evansville area. I was happy to have a school group come through, but then the teacher I talked to on the phone said that these children were blind and that they’d like to touch some of the mounts. I wasn’t too sure about that since oil from hands can cause problems to mounts, but I said yes and hoped for the best. I recall one of the kids, a little girl, came up to the black bear. We had pulled back the fence so the kids could get closer. She was 10 or so and had been blind since birth. She spent maybe 15 minutes going over every detail of that bear with her hands, very gently. The teacher asked her then what she thought. She said, ‘Now I know what a bear looks like.’ That was a great day. It made all the effort of creating the room worthwhile just to see the looks and smiles on those kids’ faces.” If you’d like more information about Frank’s adventures and the museum collection, check out Herald reporter Candy Neal’s story online that appeared May 14, 2019. Her retelling of Fromme’s taking the polar bear and an elephant make for a good read. I tried to expand on her story a bit after talking with Tom Kellams. It takes a lot of people working together to create something as magnificent as the Frank Fromme mounts room, but a project like this needs someone to lead the charge. Tom Kellams rose to the task.
Stop by and check out this room and the other numerous quality displays at our local museum. You’ll be impressed.
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