Negro Leagues Museum to launch fundraiser
Plan for 1,000 donors and $100,000 by O'Neil's 100th birthday
KANSAS CITY -- A major fundraising campaign is being officially launched on Thursday by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in connection with the 100th birthday of the late co-founder Buck O'Neil.
The effort is aimed at participation by fans in the community and across the nation and world. Thursday is the fifth anniversary of the death of the baseball icon, and NLBM hopes to reach its goal of 1,000 donors and $100,000 by Nov. 13, the date of O'Neil's birth in 1911.
"We've just launched what essentially is a '$100 for 100th' campaign," museum president Bob Kendrick said. "The goal is to see if we can get people to donate $100 in memory of Buck and in support of the museum. Every person who makes a donation will become a member of what we call the 'All-Century Team,' and they will have a plaque on display permanently at the museum."
The donors' plaques will be on a wall in the museum, which is located in Kansas City's historic 18th and Vine district.
"This is the first time we've done this, and my belief is that we need to create stakeholders in this museum and we need to give the community ownership," Kendrick said. "And $100 is an affordable option for folks to not only remember Buck and support his museum, but you also get a chance to leave your own legacy by having your name or whomever you might designate on the plaque."
Donations can be made online by visiting www.nlbm.com and clicking on the "Buck O'Neil $100 to 100th" link. Another option is to call the museum at 816-221-1920 during normal business hours.
Also on Thursday, the museum is opening a new exhibit honoring O'Neil called "Right on Time" in its changing gallery. It's free to the public in the lobby area and will be on display until Feb. 5.
"It's a chronology of Buck's life -- from the grandson of a slave to his death. [It's] going back and recounting some of the things that happened on that remarkable journey of his," Kendrick said. "We have a team of professional artists who are creating original works inspired by Buck that will be part of the exhibition. We also have Buck's Presidential Medal of Freedom, which will be on public display for the first time."
The Royals are supporting the fund drive, and the club has long recognized the impact of O'Neil, who was a Royals scout and had a career as a Negro Leagues player and manager. O'Neil was also the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues, with the Cubs. He became widely-known through his appearances on Ken Burns' TV series "Baseball" in 1994.
"We've finished our fifth season of the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat," said Toby Cook, Royals vice president-community affairs and publicity. "From after Buck's death until the last home game of this year, we've had about 400 people sitting in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat, and we've had 100 percent participation. It's been very important to us to honor the memory of Buck O'Neil at every single home game."
The Legacy Seat honors those who carry on the ideals of O'Neil. The Negro Leagues, which included such stars as Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs, are featured at the Royals Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium.
"The big thing is, between now and then, without knowing any details, Major League Baseball is intent on highlighting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum next year for the All-Star Week," Cook said.
The All-Star Game will be at Kauffman Stadium on July 10.
The NLBM fundraising drive is a means to keep the museum vibrant and growing as part of baseball's and Kansas City's heritage, according to Kendrick.
"It's not a make-or-break situation. It's just, as we sat down and started to look at what I refer as a more tactical strategy, to make sure we are protecting this property as best we can," Kendrick said.
"Our corporate partners want to see the community step up and participate as well, so they're not asked to carry the entire load. It's a small donation, but it's a huge investment. It's going to mean a lot on a lot of levels for this museum."
Other events are planned. On Nov. 11, the First Watch restaurants in the KC area will donate their day's profits to the museum. On Nov. 12, an O'Neil "birthday bash" will be held at the museum, followed by a tribute and concert at the Gem Theater across the street.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.