Illinois Heroes Featured in Museum Exhibition

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Illinois State Museum Heroes

Some of Thomas Jones’ medals from the Vietnam War are part of the “Unsung Heroes” exhibition at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. (Photo courtesy of the Illinois State Museum)

Heroes. We all have them. Some may come to life as we flip through the pages of a comic book or novel. Others are living, breathing people already walking around in the world. The latter don’t wear capes or costumes – they’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things in service of their fellow man.

Three of these heroes – Anna Heistad, Minnie Vautrin and Thomas Jones – are being profiled in the new “Unsung Heroes” exhibition at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. All three called Illinois home but have been largely forgotten by history.

“These are amazing stories of incredible heroism, and we wanted to highlight the individuals whose selflessness and courage can be an inspiration to us all,” said Erika Holst, the museum’s curator of decorative arts.

Each took brave courses of action in the face of difficult circumstances, saving countless lives with no promise of reward or glory.

Heistad was a nurse and settlement worker in early 19th century Chicago who rose before dawn during the Spanish flu pandemic to work with the ill.

Vautrin was a missionary worker in China who sheltered thousands of women and children during the Nanking Massacre of 1937-1938.

Jones was a Navy medic who tended to his comrades’ wounds in the heat of battle and continued serving veterans after he returned home.

“We’re really hoping that people come out, take a look and get inspired by what these amazing people did. And hopefully get some thoughts on what makes a hero, who are the heroes in their own lives and what can we all do to be a little bit more heroic and affect the world around us,” Holst said.

The exhibit will remain open until June 3.

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