LEXINGTON, Mo. — Alumni of the shuttered Wentworth Military Academy and College are fighting to salvage one especially precious piece of their history — a 5 1/2-foot-tall copper-plated statue of a World War I doughboy.
The academy in the western Missouri town of Lexington prepared generations of cadets for military action ranging from the Spanish American War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Wentworth struggled financially in recent years due largely to rising costs and declining enrollment.
When it closed in May after 137 years of operation, plans called for all assets to be liquidated. Bank Midwest holds the liens and an auction is scheduled for Oct. 7.
Among the items to be sold is the statue simply known as the Doughboy, which was a centerpiece of the campus. Installed in 1922, it was originally dedicated to 16 former Wentworth cadets who died in World War I. The term “doughboy” was a nickname for soldiers who fought in World War I.
The statue eventually came to serve as a monument to Wentworth alumni who died in all wars, said Scott Hefner, president of the Wentworth Alumni Association. It became so integral to Wentworth’s culture that first-year cadets were required to salute it, couldn’t approach it and couldn’t walk behind it.
Hefner said alumni, not the academy, purchased the statue. Its plaque identifies it as the “Wentworth Alumni Memorial.” The association wants to keep the statue for public display and is seeking a court order prohibiting Bank Midwest from auctioning it. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday.
“We want our property returned,” Hefner said. “We want to maintain the heritage and history of the monument for alumni and the community.”
An attorney for the bank declined to comment. But a court filing on behalf of Bank Midwest said the alumni association “failed to establish that it has a legitimate claim of ownership in the Doughboy statue.”
Hefner said that if the association prevails, the statue will stay in Lexington, either in front of the Lafayette County Courthouse in Lexington or in a museum dedicated to the academy expected to open this fall.
The Doughboy statue at Wentworth was one of about 140 copies of the same statue created by Ernest Moore Viquesney. Two others are still on display in Missouri, outside courthouses in Sedalia and Bolivar.
After the hearing Tuesday, alumni plan to gather at noon to salute the Doughboy.
“We just want to hold onto our piece of this history and tradition,” Hefner said.