The Ralph Foster Museum, on the campus of the College of the Ozarks, grew from humble beginnings in the 1920's to become one of the Midwest’s foremost institutions of historical preservation.
Dr. Robert M. Good, the President of the school, took an interest in the idea of a museum on campus. Subsequently, he made space available for the display of items in the basement of Abernathy Hall, a boy’s residence hall. When the residence hall was later vacated, funds were provided to convert the entire building into a museum.
The primary focus of the Ralph Foster Museum today is to collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit items relating to the Ozarks region. One of the more famous exhibits is the original vehicle used in the television series "The Beverly Hillbillies." In addition, visitors will find antiques, weapons, dolls, natural history and other items from around the world.
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Ralph Foster was one of the true pioneers of radio -- one of the first to realize its vast potential, both educationally and as a new and exciting field of mass entertainment.
In 1924, Mr. Foster and his partner, Jerry Hall, set up a 50-watt station, KGBX, in a corner of their Firestone tire store in St. Joseph, Missouri.
It began as a hobby, but as businesses increasingly sought to advertise over the air, the station blossomed into a full-time vocation. It wasn't long before a brand new one-stop super service station and glassed in studios for the radio station were built a few blocks north of the old tire store located on Frederick Avenue. The age of radio had begun!
In 1932, Mr. Foster moved the station to Springfield, Missouri. Later, unable to get a power increase for KGBX, he purchased the license of a radio station in Grant City, Missouri, and moved it to Springfield.
Ralph Foster asked for and received the call letters K-W-T-O and soon the slogan "KEEP WATCHING THE OZARKS" was on everybody's lips. Mr. Foster, as President and General Manager of KWTO, devoted all his time and energy toward making it the dominant station of the Ozarks area. KGBX was sold in the early 1940's.
Live talent broadcasts dominated programming. Many famous country music stars either got their start or appeared on KWTO, including Slim Wilson, Porter Wagoner, Chet Atkins, the Carter family and Homer and Jethro.
The long, popular weekly television show, "OZARK JUBILEE," by Mr. Ralph Foster was achieved through Crossroads TV Production, a KWTO subsidiary. It starred the late Red Foley and guest starred many well-known country music personalities.
For many years, Mr. Foster had been collecting Indian artifacts. His interest in The School of the Ozarks prompted him to turn this vast collection over to the School's Museum.
Because of his abiding interests and generosity, The School of the Ozarks Board of Trustees voted to rename the Museum the "Ralph Foster Museum" in the mid-1960's.
Ralph Foster passed away on August 11, 1984. His wife Harriett passed away on December 5, 1986.
Who was Ralph Foster? He was an avid hunter and fisherman, a strong conservationist, a man who was close to nature, and an individual who loved his fellow man. He was compassionate, understanding, generous and had a rich sense of humor.