Museum of Automobiles - Buddy and Alan Hoelzeman may have both started out as accountants, but it seems their hearts and careers were always destined for vintage cars atop Petit Jean Mountain. After serving more than 50 years as the executive director for the Museum of Automobiles, Buddy has turned over the reins to his son Alan.
A native of Morrilton, Buddy graduated high school in 1955 and went to work in Little Rock at Stuart’s Potato Chip factory. He began taking a bookkeeping class at night school and started working for an accountant whose clients included the Museum of Automobiles. Eventually, the Museum wanted a full-time bookkeeper, and Buddy got the job in 1966.
Founded by the late Winthrop Rockefeller, the museum opened Oct. 18, 1964 with Rockefeller’s collection of antique and classic cars.
Buddy was promoted to office manager in 1968, and then, director later that same year. One of his great accomplishments has been working to build up the annual antique auto show, which is hosted by the museum. The event started in 1968 and now takes place Father’s Day weekend in June and the fourth weekend in September each year.
“He just kind of fell into it,” says his son Alan. Buddy remained director until 1975 when the museum was closed after Rockefeller died. At that point, the cars were sold, and the museum building and grounds were given to Arkansas State Parks.
Buddy and nine other car collectors formed a non-profit organization to continue operating the museum with cars that were mainly on loan.
“The museum was still pretty young. It had opened in ’64 and nine years later Mr. Rockefeller dies. They just felt like it was such an asset to the state,” Alan explains. “Besides, what’s the park going to do with this building?”
The museum reopened in ’76 with Buddy back at its helm. He served as executive director until February 2021 and is still on the board of directors. However, after a stroke in March 2021, Buddy’s role with the museum is limited.
Over the years, Buddy has won numerous awards for his work at the museum and for his dedication to tourism in the region. He is a board member of the Arkansas River Valley Tri Peaks Tourist Association. He has been a recipient of the Trip Peaks Charlie Johnson Award for Tourism Person of the Region. Buddy was inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame in 1998.
“You look back and you think about it and he spent almost his entire life keeping this museum going,” Alan says. “I don’t want to say he single-handedly did it, but he was instrumental. When you’re a nonprofit you’ve got to get money from somewhere. He was very good at utilizing other people's money. He had a lot of contacts being here as long as he was and was able to keep this thing going.”
Alan took over as executive director of the museum on Feb. 15, 2021. He worked at the museum previously but studied accounting and had a job with a Morrilton CPA firm for several years. In fact, he worked for Floyd Trafford, who also happened to have hired his father as an accountant at the museum back in 1966.
While Alan is definitely following in his father’s footsteps, he doesn’t intend to try to fill his shoes.
“There’s absolutely no way I can measure up to him at all,” Alan says. He plans to build on what his father has established."
“I was 2 years old when he came to work here. I grew up in this museum. In early days, he would work half a day on Saturdays. When I got old enough to drive, I learned to drive in his company vehicle.”
Alan has fond memories of driving up the mountain to the museum and then back down at the end of the workday.
“I remember that like it was yesterday. It was a 1970 four-door Chevy Caprice painted in Winrock Green.”
Alan says cars hold connection to family, places and times in your life.
For example, Buddy once purchased a '65 Ford Galaxie convertible from a doctor in Little Rock. One day he received a call from the doctor’s grandson asking if the museum knew where the car was. The young man was getting married and wanted to recreate a photograph he had of his grandparents in that same car looking back. Buddy let him borrow the car for the photoshoot. Alan and his wife took the car to the couple. Two years ago the grandson bought the car from Buddy.
“Just this past June he came up here and had a framed picture of his grandparents and he and his wife, side by side, that he wanted my dad to have,” Alan says.”That story touched me. He wanted really bad to recreate that picture.”
Alan has many memories from growing up in the museum.
“It was like coming home, coming back to work here,” Alan says. “I worked here up until 2015 then left and took another job. Then five years later, it’s like I never left. This place is like another house, another home. I just hope I don’t let him down. This place means a lot to our family because we’ve been here for so long. All of us have worked here, every one of the kids and every one of the grandkids, even some of the daughters-in-law have worked here. My wife worked here, both of my kids, both of my brothers’ kids. None of the great-grandkids yet because they’re too young.” Buddy married “Tootsie” DeSalvo and they have three boys, Tommy, Mark and Alan, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Alan is still getting his feet wet when it comes to running the museum on his own since his father had his stroke about 30 days into Alan taking over as executive director. He says there’s room for improvement in making the museum more visible.
“We need to put our face out there a little better,” he says. “As far as goals, I just want to keep this place going forever.”
Currently, the museum has more than 50 cars on display, ranging from a 1904 Oldsmobile French Front to a 1981 DeLorean. Most of the vehicles date to before 1950. It is home to the only Climber automobiles known to exist with the 1923 Climber Touring on display.
Several of Rockefeller’s personal cars are still on exhibit. Fans of the late Governor will be delighted to see his 1951 Cadillac that he drove to Arkansas in 1953 when he made the state his home; his 1914 Cretor’s popcorn wagon; and his 1967 Cadillac with a sterling silver Santa Gertrudis hood ornament.
The museum consists of 22,500 square feet of display space and a gift shop. Other auto-related collections on display are antique gas pumps and gasoline equipment, and license plates. The museum also has a small gun collection display and antique arcade machines, including a player piano.
The museum is located at 8 Jones Lane in Morrilton atop Petit Jean Mountain. For more information, call 501-727-5427 or visit Museumofautos.com.
The Museum of AutomobilesPetit Jean Mountain
8 Jones Lane
Morrilton, AR 72110
Open daily from 10am to 5pm
Closed on Christmas Day
$9.00 (65 yrs. and over)
$5.00 (students 6 to 17 yrs.)
Below 6 yrs. Free
Group Rates are Available
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