Grand opening of Miss-Lou Military Museum celebrated

Published 3:48 pm Sunday, November 12, 2023

NATCHEZ — A new museum representing veterans and offering veterans support and information services is now open in Natchez.

The new Miss-Lou Military Museum and Veterans Welcome Center at 107 Jefferson Davis Boulevard celebrated its grand opening on Sunday, just after Veterans Day.

The museum’s creation took “many dozens of hours” in physical time, “but in emotional time, years,” founder Mark LaFrancis said. “You can’t do something of this caliber without vision, passion and dedication.”

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The museum effort began at Home With Heroes’ clothing bank, once housed in the VFW building on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

LaFrancis said those services often went unseen in their inaccessible location.

“We were shoehorned into the second floor in two small rooms upstairs,” LaFrancis said. “Nobody came to see what we have. If they could find us, they didn’t want to go up the stairs to see it. … With a lack of interest in the clothing bank, we decided to focus our efforts on building a museum. After about a year or more, we finally found a place.”

The new museum has open spaces and room for more displays in the future and is open to veterans and to curious and growing minds.

Operating hours are currently Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and on select Saturdays once or twice a month, LaFrancis said.

Not only will people find information about veterans from the Miss-Lou area and throughout Mississippi at the museum, but veterans themselves can receive information about the resources available to them from other veterans who’ve had to “navigate the labyrinth” of federal regulatory procedures to receive help themselves, LaFrancis said. Additionally, the museum is staffed by smiling faces who are around just to chat and exchange stories.

“We want this to be your little living room,” he said. “A place to have some coffee, maybe read a book and meet a friendly face.”

On display are uniforms, flags, books, patches and medals donated by families of men and women who have served and an impressive collection of unboxed G.I. Joes and Lego naval ships.

The G.I. Joe collection was donated to the museum by Robert Foley, a veteran, who has been collecting since his childhood years with more to add to it later on.

Foley’s family comes from Mississippi at a place called Cotton Plant and from England, and he retired to Natchez around eight years ago, he said.

His toy collection represents every branch of the military, giving a real, visual sense of what each branch does.

Some appear to be parachuting from a plane; another sits relaxed on a cot with his military chest open cleaning his boots.

Foley said the museum effort helps a population that often gets overlooked by politicians.

“A lot of people will say to a veteran, ‘Thank you for your service.’ But I say if you really want to thank a veteran, get in touch with your elected leaders to have the VA Claims process revamped so that it’s not as difficult a process to go through. That’s my political two cents for the day,” Foley said.

He’s among those at the museum to help other veterans navigate that difficult process.

“People say it takes a village, well It took a village and a half to make this a reality,” LaFrancis said. “This is just the beginning of what I hope will be a wonderful and perfect gift to not only our veterans but to the community. The community, both young and old, needs to learn about what veterans did for our city, our state and our country. This place has a lot of information about that and will have more. I’m hoping we’ll establish in 2024 a patriotism education program where we can bring young people here to experience this.”