Natick Residents React to Closure of International Museum of World War II

Billionaire Ronald Lauder purchased the collection in March 2018

Residents in Natick, Massachusetts, are reacting after learning a World War II museum in town abruptly shut down over the weekend.

Moving trucks could be seen outside the International Museum of World War II on Mercer Road Wednesday afternoon. The museum, which is considered to have one of the most comprehensive collections in the world, announced on its website it was closing its doors as of Sept. 1.

Kenneth Rendell, who founded the museum 20 years ago, said no one is more upset than him.

“It was the greatest shock to me. We didn’t have a choice,” Rendell said.

Rendell said most of the collection is now owned by Ronald Lauder, a billionaire art collector who is also an heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire.

The collection was sold for $25 million in March 2018 after a plan to expand the museum fell through and operating funds started running low. He said Lauder was going to help move it to Washington D.C., but agreed to let the collection be on loan to the Natick museum until the end of 2019.

Rendell said he never imagined Lauder would cancel the loan agreement and demand the collection sooner, but he claims that is what happened.

“This is never what I thought,” Rendell said. “I spent my lifetime putting this together.”

Now the pieces he curated are being loaded on to moving trucks. Their future home is still unclear, but the school field trips and other events booked in Natick this year are canceled as a result.

The sudden announcement was the talk to the VFW Post in Natick. Many who served were saddened that the museum will no longer serve as a resource to bring history to life.

“It’s a loss. It’s a big loss to the community,” Natick VFW Post Commander Byron Prescott said.

Some veterans understand why the collection is being moved, but said they wish they would have known the museum was closing so they could have gone one more time.

“It was a wonderful, wonderful place and I’m very sad it’s closing,” Korean War veteran Lonnie Kerr said.

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