The Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society grew out of a festival in Lebanon celebrating the 75th birthday of Route 66 on Sept. 8, 2001. That first festival was the idea of Bill Wheeler, then the event coordinator for the Kenneth E. Cowan Civic Center, and a local amateur-radio club.
The Route 66 Festival committee evolved into the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society, with the mission “to educate, preserve, promote and develop Route 66 in Laclede County.” The society was incorporated as a nonprofit with the State of Missouri on Jan. 9, 2003, and is now recognized as a 501 (c)(3), enabling donations to it to be tax-deductible.
Bill Wheeler was the organization’s first president, with Gary Sosniecki the vice president and Ramona Lehman the secretary-treasurer. Other original board members were Mike Edwards, Dan True, Rod Reid, David Troutman, David Wheeler, Gail Bryant, Kenny Capps and Kirk Pearce.
Besides continuing the Lebanon Route 66 Festival, which was held annually for nine years, the society’s first major project was to campaign successfully for the new Lebanon-Laclede County Library to include a Route 66 museum. Society members even drew the preliminary floor plan for the museum, which today is visited by 14,000 Route 66 enthusiasts annually from all over the world.
On June 22, 2010, the society held a dinner and unveiling ceremony for the last piece in the museum’s original plans: a diorama depicting the crossroads of Route 66 and Highway 5 in Lebanon, circa 1940. The diorama was begun in 2004 but not completed until Judy Wallmark, secretary-treasurer of the society, enlisted the skills of Willem Bor of the Netherlands to complete the project. Bor and his wife Monique personally delivered the scale model of the Nelson Hotel to Lebanon for the unveiling.
In recent years, the society has supported a project to build three Route 66 murals in Boswell Park, which the Lebanon Parks and Recreation Department has redeveloped with a Route 66 theme. In May 2016, the society took over fund-raising for the $75,000 mural project. The first mural, depicting a 1957 Chevy on Route 66 at the entrance of Lebanon, was unveiled with a ceremony on Feb. 18, 2017. The second mural, a tribute to Laclede County and the Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge, was unveiled shortly after the 2017 Lebanon Route 66 Festival, and the third mural, a salute to the "Nelson Family Legacy" on Route 66, was dedicated with a ceremony May 6, 2018, at which the names of all 143 donors were read aloud.
Today, the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society promotes Route 66 through projects and programs in the community, including in 2019 the 12th Lebanon Route 66 Festival on Father's Day weekend in partnership with the Lebanon Parks and Recreation Department, publication of a full-color Laclede County Route 66 Map and Tour Guide in partnership with The Laclede County Record, and restoration of the exterior of the Underpass Cafe at Phillipsburg and of the last cabin of Camp Joy, Lebanon's first tourist camp. Members also speak about Route 66 to civic and school groups and serve as ambassadors to groups touring Route 66 in Laclede County.
As of July 2019, the society board meets at 9 a.m. the first Tuesday of the month at West Side Cafe in Lebanon. Those who order dinner should arrive by 8:30 a.m. so the meeting can start on time. Board meetings are open to all members. A general membership meeting with a program is held in January.