U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has honored two Oregon State University faculty members for their involvement in saving numerous priceless pieces of art pilfered by Nazis during World War II.
Late faculty members Gordon Gilkey and Mark Sponenburgh were part of the group known as “Monuments Men,” who were commissioned by the U.S. government during WWII to hunt down and retrieve countless pieces of artwork stolen and hidden by Nazis during the Occupation.
During a short ceremony Monday, Feb. 1, at Philomath High School, Wyden presented the Congressional Gold Medal to OSU President Ed Ray and College of Liberal Arts Dean Larry Rodgers to posthumously honor the contributions of Gilkey and Sponenburgh. The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest recognition granted to civilians for distinguished achievements and contributions.
“The Monuments Men and their service under the most challenging of circumstances are an example of the truly extraordinary contributions made by the Greatest Generation of men and women,” Ray said during the ceremony.
“We are proud that Gilkey and Sponenburgh, who had a hand in saving some of the world’s great art, are a part of Oregon State’s legacy,” said Dean Larry Rodgers after the ceremony. “These determined men went from World War II to helping create a strong artistic culture in Corvallis.”
Gilkey served in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, and advised on cultural monuments to be spared from bombing, as well as gathering German and Nazi propaganda art as well as works of art relating to the perpetuation of German militarism and Nazism. He later became dean of the OSU College of Liberal Arts.
Sponenburgh, who served in the Corps of Engineers, participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy, and was later stationed in Austria at the primary Nazi storage depot for Hitler’s collection of looted art and cultural objects. He was able to identify and return items to the people and countries from which they were stolen. He went on to teach art history at OSU from 1961-1983.
“With this congressional recognition for distinguished achievements, we will forever remember at OSU the importance of their service to the country and to our global society,” Ray said during the ceremony.
Rodgers said they’re still discussing where to display the replica medal, but it eventually be placed, along with explanatory text, in a CLA building on campus for public viewing.
~ Theresa Hogue