Organizers say they will continue quest to build Georgetown veterans museum

gkocher1@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2013 

An effort to build a veterans museum in Georgetown has stalled, but organizers said they have not surrendered the cause.

"We are in limbo at present but not giving up," Todd Strecker of Lexington wrote in a recent email.

Two years ago, Strecker, Georgetown Mayor Everette Varney and Scott County resident Obey Wallen launched an effort to raise money for the National Veterans Memorial Museum.

The museum was to collect and transcribe the personal stories of veterans and would have displays that told about conflicts from the Korean War through the present. (World War II and conflicts previous to it would not be included because they are covered comprehensively by other institutions.)

The project was ambitious, with the first phase costing an estimated $50 million. At the time, Strecker insisted that the money be raised through private contributions alone and that no taxpayer dollars would be involved.

But illness forced Strecker, 73, to severely curtail his activities. As a retiree, he had the time to devote to the project. But Wallen's work as a real estate broker and auctioneer and Varney's duties as mayor prevented them from filling in for Strecker.

"I don't have the time to pursue this on my own," Wallen said.

As a result, a website — Vmmky.org — was shut down. The Kentucky secretary of state's website lists the organization as dissolved after an annual report was not filed.

And some 25,000 to 30,000 mailers that were to go to potential donors were never sent, Wallen said. He said he spent $4,000 to $5,000 of his money to print the mailers, which are now stored in the office of the Georgetown-Scott County Tourism Commission.

"This situation has been especially frustrating to me, as I was the one who initiated the project (and) convinced the other directors to become involved," Strecker wrote in an email.

The organization also did not exercise an option on a piece of land that had been eyed as a potential site for the museum, Wallen said. The site was never identified, but Wallen had said it was within the city limits of Georgetown and near Interstate 75.

Wallen said the principals had hoped to get a volunteer executive director to promote the fundraising and then create a board of 25 to 30 people. Once money started coming in, the directors could have paid the executive director.

In addition, Strecker wrote that he had hoped "the national economy would rebound more rapidly than it has, loosening individual donations to the museum project."

But the recovery has been slow, and starting a museum is challenging even in the best of times. Museums that have been around for years face budget cuts and are closing because of a lack of funding. The key is to engage donors and visitors and to generate enthusiasm among many different groups so that funding comes from all kinds of sources, wrote blogger Guy Hermann, a museum planner for a Connecticut consulting firm called Museum Insights. The firm specializes in helping new museums get off the ground and assists existing museums in reinventing themselves.

"The fundamental question that people ask when asked to give up their money, whether it is $10 for admission or $10 million for endowment: 'Why does this matter to me?'" Hermann wrote in a blog post.

Despite the stalled effort, organizers of the Georgetown veterans museum say the project can be kick-started.

Wallen said he plans to reinstate the incorporation papers with the secretary of state's office.

"That's a simple process," he said. "The reinstatement is nothing more than a paper process for the state."

And, "if we can manage to receive a flow of donations sufficient to bring an administrative assistant on board and option property we would like to utilize, our project will develop much-needed momentum," Strecker wrote.

If there is a silver lining, Wallen said, it's the favorable response to the idea.

"I'll tell you this: I have not run into anybody yet who was against it," he said.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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