History sees the light at armory

Jo Lutz Rollins murals, WWII veterans both recognized at D-Day ceremony Thursday


American Legion Post 48 official Brent Banchy, left, Washington County Historical Society Executive Director Brent Peterson, and Brig. Gen. William Lieder hold up a section of a Rollins mural.
American Legion Post 48 official Brent Banchy, left, Washington County Historical Society Executive Director Brent Peterson, and Brig. Gen. William Lieder hold up a section of a Rollins mural.

Murals depicting American soldiers once forgotten in a Stillwater basement were proudly brought back into the light Thursday morning.

The Minnesota National Guard, Washington County Historical Society and Stillwater American Legion Post No. 48 celebrated the anniversary of the World War II D-Day invasion of France with the dedication of Jo Lutz Rollins murals depicting American soldiers at the Stillwater Armory.

The ceremony, led by Brig. Gen. William Lieder and Maj. Kristen Auge, recognized the importance of Rollins’ murals, which include scenes from both world wars, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.

“This ceremony pays tribute to an artist who honored our military members in an unforgettable way,” Lieder said.

Rollins was a local painter who founded the Stillwater Art Colony and was the first female art professor at the University of Minnesota. The local Legion Post commissioned Rollins to paint the war murals, some of which hung in the post basement. The basement was the post’s original bar, but eventually became storage and the paintings were out of sight and forgotten until post officer Brent Banchy discovered them about a year ago.

Banchy was cleaning the basement and made his way to a back room, which stored old pull-tabs. When Banchy saw the murals hanging on the walls and stacked in a corner, he called WCHS Executive Director Brent Peterson.

“I’ve read about these murals. Brent’s first call was to me. We cruised down there. These were a big mystery,” Peterson said.

Banchy also heard stories about the murals.

“Some of the guys knew about them, but didn’t know where they were,” he said.

Banchy said the Legion has no mission for the murals, so by giving them to the Historical Society, the works stay in the county and city.

“We love them, but we have no space for them,” Banchy said.

Last fall, Minnesota National Guard personnel at the Stillwater armory were contacted about forming a partnership with the Legion and Historical Society. Officials with the groups agreed that Rollins’ murals should hang in the armory.

“Jo Lutz Rollins captured military history in her artwork and it is appropriate that some of her artwork be displayed in our facility,” Lieder said.

Since federal regulations restrict the size of gifts that can be given to the National Guard, the murals are on long-term loan from the Historical Society. The Guard is waiting for the new Stillwater armory to be constructed so Rollins’ murals can be displayed properly.

Four World War II veterans attended the ceremony, including Banchy’s father, Bob Banchy. Banchy fought in the Philippines and came to the event to see his son be recognized.

Milt Guion, 88, also attended the ceremony. Guion fought in the European theater and was on Normandy Beach on D-Day. When asked about his experience, Guion fought back tears as he recalled that famous day.

Kerri Fee, a friend who attends memorial services with Guion, said that he was the last survivor of his platoon at the end of D-Day.

“He sometimes can’t get through talking about it,” Fee said.

Guion is “like a father figure to me,” Fee said. “I just love him.”

The World War II veterans were also recognized during the ceremony and thanked for their service.

“It is fitting to observe our history and recognize veterans on this anniversary of D-Day, particularly those who served during World War II,” Lieder said. “Working together with the American Legion and Washington Country Historical Society demonstrates the community’s support and commitment to our military service members and their families.”

Contact Amanda White at [email protected]