KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At first they thought it was a false alarm, but when staff at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum discovered vandals had flooded their new education center, they didn’t know how to pay for the estimated $500,000 repairs.
Fast forward two months and the KCMO museum had received donations from across the country.
“We’ve gotten a lot of love,” museum President Bob Kendrick said. “I think it speaks to people’s understanding and embracing of what this history represents.”
In June, vandals cut a water pipe at the museum’s site in the former Paseo YMCA, the building where the Negro National League was founded in 1920.
By the time the pipe was discovered, water had been running for more than 12 hours and the bottom floor of the newly renovated building had been severely damaged.
‘One of the darkest days’
“It was one of the darkest days in recent memory for me personally and professionally,” Kendrick said. “Once I realized that someone had very deliberately, maliciously done that damage, it was just so disheartening.”
Kendrick said repairing the damage will cost around $500,000. The money is needed to cover demolition, cleanup and restoration costs. Although the museum is still talking with its insurance company, its initial claim was denied.
Still under construction when the vandalism occurred, the Buck O’Neil Research and Education Center is a planned expansion of the museum, created in honor of John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, a baseball player and the first African-American coach in Major League Baseball history.
The Negro National League is where many famous players got their start in a time when professional baseball was a segregated sport. Kendrick said many people who come to the museum don’t know that legendary player Jackie Robinson got his start with the Kansas City Monarchs, a team in the Negro National League.
“It’s a very powerful, triumphant story of courageous athletes who overcame tremendous social adversity to go on to greatness,” Kendrick said. “The job at hand is to make sure that all those heroes of the Negro League are never forgotten. That’s what we are trying to do.”
A ‘groundswell of support’
While the damage has set the education center’s expected opening date back many months, Kendrick said he has been blown away by the support the museum has received.
“Small contributions are coming from virtually every corner of the country,” Kendrick said. “It’s lifted everybody’s spirits.”
In Chicago, a fan of the museum organized a fundraiser at the Nisei Lounge to raise money for repairs.
In New Hampshire, one of Kendrick’s Twitter followers, Tim Burnell, put together a fundraiser on Facebook that he said raised $365. He also got his workmates involved.
“Monday our charitable fund at the office voted to donate $1K from our emergency fund. And Mrs. gave me thumbs up for a personal donation. So … progress. C’mon,” he posted on Twitter.
Back in Kansas City, Boulevard Brewing Co., a local brewery, hosted a “Bingo for Buck” night to raise funds for the museum. Kendrick said he has also been contacted by Little League teams and an elementary school that want to get involved in the effort.
“This groundswell of support has just been tremendous,” Kendrick said. “As we’ve started going through looking at donations and seeing where they’re coming from, they are coming from all over the country and they’re coming in amounts whether its $5 or $5,000.”
The support doesn’t end there.
Claudia Williams and the board of directors of the Ted Williams Museum in Florida pledged $100,000 to help repair the vandalism. According to Kendrick, Buck O’Neil and baseball player Ted Williams “were very close” back in the day.
Hy-Vee recently presented the museum with a $20,000 check, and the Royals donated $26,000 from proceeds of game-worn uniforms from the Negro Leagues salute in May.
Finishing the task at hand
Kendrick said the outpouring of support has energized his team to remain in good spirits and stay focused on repairing the education center.
“Even though we know we’ve got a task at hand, there are so many wonderful people who are stepping up to assist us that I have no doubt that this project will be right back on track and Buck’s dream will be fulfilled,” Kendrick said. “We’re going to keep on keeping on.”
According to Kendrick, if O’Neil was still here, he would say: “People will do bad things, but good people will fix them.”
“And at this stage, good people are helping us fix this,” Kendrick said.