Difference Makers: Bert and Mary Ann Kellerman play key role in preserving Cape’s history

Bert and Mary Ann Kellerman
Aaron Eisenhauer

To read about other Difference Makers, visit www.semissourian.com/DifferenceMakers

Bert and Mary Ann Kellerman, both retired faculty members of Southeast Missouri State University, began the Kellerman Foundation after feeling a responsibility to preserve the history of Cape Girardeau.

They began their first endeavor into historic preservation after purchasing and restoring the “Fountain House” in 1971 located at 6 S. Fountain Street in Cape Girardeau, where they have lived for 50 years.

Since their start the couple has restored five buildings in line with historic preservation guidelines in Cape Girardeau, and they have helped bring history exhibits to the Kellerman Foundation building for the public to view. These exhibits include a Marie Oliver and family exhibit consisting of items from approximately 1,400 boxes, the lifetime work of Charles Rhinehart spanning eight decades donated by his wife Lavetta Rhinehart, a Smithsonian WaterWays exhibit, and an upcoming 3,000-square-foot Ulysses S. Grant collection on loan from the Scott-Norman collection along with pieces from the Kellerman Foundation. The Grant collection is a traveling exhibition by the Missouri Humanities Council.

The couple purchased the Alliance Building, also known as the Klostermann Block, in 1992. The overall process took a total of 11 years, and the Kellerman’s restored the building as they could afford it. The building now houses Ebb and Flow Fermentations, Celebrations riverfront location and the Digital Foundry.

The building had no roof, no wiring, no plumbing, no anything,” Mary Ann said. “All it was was a pretty metal front. That metal front was done by the Mesker Brothers. It was the only real example we had in town. Often, when there is a Mesker front it tends to be less complete and not as elaborate. Ours is a whole metal front. Tackling that old building is the biggest deal.”

In 2002, the Kellerman’s purchased the Oliver-Leming House — also referred to as the “Flag House” — located at 740 North St. in Cape Girardeau. The building was designed by J.B. Legg and built between 1898 and 1899.

The house is the site where Marie Oliver worked on the design of what is now the Missouri State Flag. It was adopted as the state flag in 1913, nearly 100 years after Missouri achieved statehood. The flag features the colors of red, white and blue, matching the colors of the U.S. Flag, and features 24 stars, which commemorate Missouri becoming the 24th state to join the Union.

The Oliver exhibit will be a consistent rotating display at Heritage Hall.

“We are committed to telling the Oliver story,” Mary Ann said.

As the Missouri State Flag was turning 100 years old, the Kellermans made a valiant effort to restore the “Flag House.” They had owned the house for 10 years prior to when renovations began. The couple has future celebrations planned at the residence and recently unveiled a bronze sculpture of Marie Oliver designed by Lavetta Rhinehart with Oliver descendants present. The Kellermans have owned the Fountain House for 30 years, the Alliance Building for 20 years and the Flag House for 10 years.

The Kellerman Foundation plans on digitizing an archive collection on the legacy of Southeast Missouri State University professor and assistant director of the State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center Frank Nickell at a future date.

The Kellerman Foundation website features an award-winning 12-video series of Nickell “documenting the rich history of the Southeast Missouri area.”

“The community has been good to us, so hopefully we were able to give back some and hopefully make it a better community,” Bert said. “As a business faculty member, I think it is important that we preserve some of the stories about early businesses and leaders in the community and some of the things they have done, because it has all contributed to make Cape Girardeau the great community it is today.”