Dr. Bruce Hodges, a long-time physician and medical missionary, has been all over the world, collecting thousands of interesting artifacts, many of which shed light on the history of medicine.
He only needed a place to put it all and share his collection with others.
So, Medicine’s Hall of Fame & Museum quietly underwent its opening during the COVID-19 pandemic, inside the former location of the Johnson County Museum in Shawnee.
Hodges serves as founder and curator. Nearly all of the museum’s artifacts come from his personal collection.
“It’s a donation of my life’s work,” Hodges said. “I’ve been collecting these artifacts for 55 years, and I thought they ought to be on display.”
Located at 6305 Lackman Road, the building was closed for years after the Johnson County Museum vacated the space and moved to the Arts & Heritage Center along Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.
Hodges said he had been looking all over the Kansas City metro area for years in order to find a space that required minimal reconstruction for his medicine museum idea.
More importantly, he wanted it to be local, since he practices medicine in northern Johnson County.
Hodges and a board of directors formed a nonprofit to support the museum. Forrest Preston, the billionaire founder of Life Care Centers of America elder care facilities, serves as the museum’s main benefactor and helped Hodges purchase the building.
‘A fulfillment of a life’s desire’
Since opening late last year, the museum has received a handful of donated artifacts. But ultimately, the vast majority of the collection is Hodges’.
He has collected more than 4,600 artifacts during his career and travels. He says about 80% of his collection is now on display. The oldest artifacts in the museum date back to prehistoric times, including some Incan items from 1100 to 1500 B.C./B.C.E.
“It’s a fulfillment of a life’s desire to share the artifacts with the world,” he said.
The museum officially opened Nov. 1, 2020, just in time to garner attention for a large-scale diorama of a depictions of the miracles of Jesus Christ.
Hand-carved by 22 artists from the Akamba tribe of Kenya, the display fills up one whole room in the museum and continues into the hallway. Hodges said it was a hit for the Christmas season.
“It emphasizes the healing miracles of Jesus, who is, in the Christian faith, considered the Great Physician, the Master Physician, the Healing Physician,” Hodges said.
There’s also a room showcasing ancient Egyptian and Chinese medicinal practices and another depicting dozens of artifacts from African tribes.
Another room exhibits Native American artifacts, including a baby’s bassinet which rests just in front of a wall-to-wall display of medical paraphernalia from past American wars.
The curator’s son, Robin Hodges, who serves as operations director of the museum and lives in Shawnee, recommends visitors check out the room paying tribute to the many histories of African tribes.
“In Africa, they do a lot of their history in carvings, whereas in Egypt, they would paint the walls and things,” Robin Hodges said. “So we have a lot of very unique carvings that tell the history of medicine, whether it’s a birthing mother or a medicine man in full regalia, things like that. It’s pretty impressive.”
Another room is dedicated to a recreation of an early 20th Century American pharmacy.
There’s a doctor’s horse-drawn buggy, an eerie display of a deceased Minnesota dentist’s exam room — the dentist was killed in his own dental chair — and a whole tribute to the polio epidemic that swept through the United States in the 20th century.
A life and career of memories
Hodges, who is 88 years old and still practicing medicine in order to support the museum, remembers quite well what it was like to live through the polio epidemic.
For him, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is not only a no-brainer; it’s also the right thing to do to save lives.
Connecting the exhibition rooms is a large hall of fame honoring the many doctors and medical professionals who have contributed to the field of medicine.
Hodges began practicing medicine in 1964. Today, he serves as a medical director at a Life Care facility at 75th and Switzer. Prior to that, he was a physician at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
He served many years as a medical missionary with his wife, Cathy. They’ve completed multiple tours to the African continent. The couple lives in Lenexa. Cathy Hodges also has a medical background, overseeing a team of pulmonary doctors at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
The museum is open to the general public. Hours of operation are 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.