John Kern Strecker
Baylor/Strecker Museum Founder and Curator Precursor to Mayborn Museum
John Strecker, Jr. was born on July 10, 1875 in Waterloo, Illinois. He grew up there and in Kansas until the family moved to Waco in November of 1887. Strecker’s education was mostly at home and the lack of formal education caused him to follow his father into a career in stone masonry. This did not last though because Strecker’s fascination for science and oddities took hold when he was still young.
At sixteen years old, Strecker produced a popular paper on the birds of Mclennan County that was published in the National Birds Magazine. While still a teenager, he began to collect snakes and became well known as an expert in the reptiles and amphibians of Texas. By way of horse and carriage, Strecker made his way across Texas collecting various animal specimens. His articles were published far and wide until his name was known in most scientific circles pertaining to the study of animals.
His reputation gained him the position of curator at Baylor University Museum in 1903. At the time, the Museum was fairly small and unimpressive but Strecker quickly began to grow its collection by adding to his own personal items and collecting new things.
More than 100 scientific articles can be attributed to John Strecker and he gave countless lectures regarding various species of Texas as far away as Washington, D.C. and Alaska. All along, Strecker credited remaining native Americans and black people for teaching him a lot of new things about various animals.
In 1919, Strecker was given double duty. As he continued in his capacity as Museum Curator, he also began his role as university librarian. He remained in both positions until his death.
Strecker’s Museum was housed in many buildings over the years. In 1922, it was located in the F.L. Carroll Chapel and Library. That February, chaos ensued when a fire broke out in the building. Baylor students loved the Strecker Collection and other building contents so much that they ran into the building and saved pieces again and again until President Samuel Palmer Brooks made them stop. Today, the building houses the Texas Collection which is a valuable resource for Waco 92’s history.
Strecker was involved in many things in Waco. He was a deacon at two local Presbyterian Churches, held an annual poultry contest, and judged show pigeons. He served as Chairman of the Waco Democratic Committee for several years and in the same capacity for the County’s Committee. Strecker was made deputy sheriff.
Fraternally, he was most active. Aside from his membership at 92 and being a 32nd degree Mason, Strecker was elected as Head Consul for the Texas Woodmen of the World.
In 1940, the Baylor University Museum was renamed the Strecker Museum by order of Waco 92’s Pat Neff. In the 1970s, it was experts at the Strecker Museum who were given the task of first surveying the Mammoth bones discovered near Waco. Their early efforts proved essential to the process that led to Waco receiving its first and only National Monument.
In 2003, the Strecker Museum was absorbed by the Mayborn Museum at Baylor and prior to that had enjoyed notoriety as the oldest existing museum in Texas. You can see some of Strecker’s collection in the Mayborn’s “Strecker Cabinet of Curiosities” which includes many of the naturalist pieces he amassed over his lifetime. Brother Junior Deacon Dave McHam recently brought to our attention that Strecker’s Masonic ring is also on display at the Museum.