20 Years of Exciting Memories
by Buck Dawson, Executive Director (Emeritus)
YESTERDAY, TODAY and TOMORROW
THE SWIMMING HALL OF FAME
In 1968, after more than 100 countries voted it "Internacional" at the FINA congress meeting at the Olympics in Mexico City, the Hall of Fame museum building was dedicated in Fort Lauderdale by FINA Secretary Harold Henning. This was 2 years after a million dollar pool began the progression toward a full hall of fame complex. At a nationally televised Grand Opening International Meet in December 1965, the stars of the 1964 Olympics met the first group of honorees: Duke Kahanamoku, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Adolph Kiefer and 22 others (see honoree section this site) during "halftime" induction ceremonies. Some 4500 swim buffs, civic leaders and celebrities from all fields of sport showed up for this opening, including Rocky Marciano, Ted Williams, Sam Snead, Julius Boros and "Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy," (former Olympic diver Wally Colbath). (One of this 1st honoree group was the late Max Ritter, Olympic swimmer, a founder of FINA and later its president. Ritter was for many years chairman of the AAU Hall of Fame Committee that initiated the idea of building this 1st Hall of Fame in a strictly amateur sport.) In Fort Lauderdale, a great deal had to be done before the present location was approved, construction begun and control of the international operations turned over to a newly formed Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc., a chartered non-profit corporation. The city would retain ownership of the buildings and grounds. The privately funded corporation would run the museum, library and auditorium, select the honorees, attract major aquatic events and set a long range goal of "every child a swimmer" in the United States and the World. "You can't find a better sport to save your life," said Corporation Vice President Ben York, summing up the broad all-aquatic definition this hall of fame would give to the term "swimming". A 50-plus Board of Directors was presided over by Indiana University's Dr. James (Doc.) Counsilman (1964 U.S. Olympic Swim Coach). The board included working leaders from every national or international swimming oriented organization wishing to belong. For some 25 years before the Hall of Fame was started, the Fort Lauderdale Swim Forum, led by coaches Ed Kennedy, Matt Mann, Al Neuschaefer, Bill Merriam and many others had talked with Fort Lauderdale's civic aquatic leaders Al Gordon, August Burghard, "Pop" Leavitt, Tom Lamar, G.H. Martin and Mal Carlisle about a Hall of Fame for swimming. For this reason the Forum's Christmas Swim Clinic was a natural for the Hall of Fame's first honoree ceremonies and nationally televised swim meets. Almost 2,000 swimmers and coaches traveled south for the Forum in the first years it moved from Old Casino Pool to the new Hall of Fame 10 lane, 50 meter pool complex on a peninsula just behind the old pool. The Hall of Fame began and ended its first 10 years under two mayors named Young. Republican Cy Young's administration allocated $195,000 in city funds toward the Hall of Fame Museum building. With the corporation adding another $80,000 (including a $50,000 donation from swimmer John duPont) the building shell was completed. The Detroit Athletic Club donated $25,000 to furnish the new auditorium in 1968. Six years and a couple of hundred thousand dollars later the building furnishings, museum exhibits, library and auditorium had been completed with swim-minded Democratic Mayor Virginia Young now in office. Between Youngs, the young hall of fame tried to support itself with every charity fund raising scheme imaginable. Tax deductible memberships were sold to swim-minded people everywhere but such donations never quite met the building needs and the bank balance seldom was more than a month ahead of the modest office payroll. All this changed when two Canadian Coaches, Howard Firby and Nick Thierry suggested a grass roots fund raising plan called Swim-a-Thon. Swim-a-thon solved 3 major fund raising needs of swimming: the financial needs of the local swim teams raising the money, the foreign travel funds that provide our swimmers with world class experience, and the Hall of Fame. So the Hall of Fame has gone from a dream to a reality in 10 years with an endowment now growing toward a financial future when expenses can be met with income from interest. Almost everyone in swimming has had a part in making this Hall of Fame possible and plausible. The natural questions are: "Now that we have arrived, what goals remain? What will the Hall of Fame do for swimming in the next ten years?"
© 1996 International Swimming Hall of Fame
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