Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon addresses a large group gathered Monday at Missouri Western's Spratt Hall during the dedication of the Walter Cronkite Memorial.

A packed crowd inside Leah Spratt Hall at Missouri Western State University came to watch the dedication of the Walter Cronkite Memorial on Monday morning.

The 5,000-square-foot interactive display, which pays homage to one of the most important journalists of the 20th century and a native St. Joseph son, was unveiled on what would have been his 97th birthday.

Several local dignitaries, including some of Mr. Cronkite’s family, showed up for the dedication.

“What a fitting crowd for a memorial to Walter Cronkite. This is a very exciting day for our campus,” said Missouri Western President Dr. Bob Vartabedian.

The public dedication ceremony included speeches from several dignitaries, including Mr. Cronkite’s daughter, Kathy Cronkite, as well as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Joseph Mayor Bill Falkner, memorial designers Eric Fuson and David Harris and Shirley Bradley.

Most of the funds for the $250,000 memorial came from the David and Shirley Bradley Memorial Fund.

“I just want to thank everybody for this wonderful exhibit. Missouri Western has always been very dear to my heart and for them to create such a wonderful memorial to Walter Cronkite is marvelous,” Ms. Bradley said.

Mr. Nixon said he remembered gathering around his family TV set watching historic events covered by Mr. Cronkite.

“He became not only the most trusted man in America but an outspoken defender of the freedom of the press,” the governor told the crowd.

Kathy Cronkite said it was perfect for a journalism family from St. Joseph to make the memorial possible. She said no tribute, article or any memorial for her father brought the family in and allowed them to have a voice and be a part of something that reflects his professional life.

“It is his birthday and he loved birthday parties. He loved getting presents and this is the best birthday party he could have ever had,” Ms. Cronkite said.

More than 400 guests showed up for the luncheon at the Fulkerson Center, which featured guest speaker and former Kansas City Mayor Kay Cronkite Barnes.

Scott Pelley, current CBS Evening News anchor, began the luncheon event by giving a video speech about his mentor and friend.

“Walter always credited the values of the Midwest for being the linchpin of his career,” Mr. Pelley said.

Ms. Barnes, a cousin of Mr. Cronkite, gave a 17-minute speech that focused more on their personal relationship than his professional career. She spoke of a thoughtful and caring person.

“When he came to St. Joseph, and I don’t remember for what particular reason, he was speaking at an event at the St. Joseph Country Club,” Ms. Barnes said. “I remember being there with him and as we walked into the country club, rather than go into the big room where all the guests were, he said, ‘There’s something I want to do first. I want to meet the people in the kitchen.’

“He shook the hands of the chef, all the waiters and all the waitresses first thing ... then he was ready to go in and meet the guests. That made an impression on me.”

The permanent memorial is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit the website www.waltercronkitememorial.org or call 271-4100.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.