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February 10, 2015 • Headlines

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Publicity nets visitors, dollars for Milan ’54 Museum

Mary Mattingly

On a recent Saturday, the Milan ’54 museum was filled with visitors. There were over 40 counted that weekend that came through the former bank doors to relive Milan’s famous Cinderella basketball story from 1954. Typically, the museum averages 10 visitors on the five days it is open, so this was a welcome treat.

Milan 54 Museum


Pictured left are visitors who come from near and far to visit the Milan ’54 Museum.

The recent influx of business was mainly the result of a front-page, sports article in the Indianapolis Star. “Oh I know it was!” exclaims founder Roselyn McKittrick. She admits when she first read the article she was upset, as she thought it was too negative, talking about their financial plight, and focused too much on her. But then the people came, and she realized it was a gift, two half pages of free publicity in the state’s biggest newspaper, as her daughter pointed out. The foundation couldn’t pay for that kind of advertising. The article got the full attention of WLW’s Lance McAlister’s and he devoted much of a recent podcast to it. “The article has been a blessing,” McKittrick adds. That same article also resulted in many mail in donations. It also meant more in merchandise sales, $900 since the article appeared January 25. The Milan ’54 Museum Foundation does not have a formal marketing or advertising plan. They just have McKittrick, who says she has more energy than money, plus the team and board of director’s word of mouth. The players still carry clout. “These men are famous. I have a three-ring binder full of telegrams from all over the country and college offers to Bobby Plump,” McKittrick said. The ’54 player Gene White stopped in that Saturday, much to the delight of the visitors. The players are always willing to share their memories and give of their time in support of the museum. “It’s a group of the finest men, of truly good citizens willing to give back,” McKittrick exclaimed.

The Ripley County Tourism Bureau does its part to promote the museum and the famous sports story that was the basis for the movie “Hoosiers.” Katherine Taul, executive director of the Ripley County Tourism Bureau, commented of the value of the museum to the county: “The Milan ’54 Hoosiers Museum draws people from all over the world to Milan. Just before Christmas a group from Australia came to visit, and many others who love basketball and the story visit the museum throughout the year. Visitors to the museum bring a lot of income to Milan, as the visitors stop to buy gasoline, eat at local restaurants and stop in the shops. The Town of Milan is very lucky to have the museum as a destination that brings people to their community, and I am very glad we have it in Ripley County to promote tourism.”

While the Indianapolis Star article stated the need for another miracle to keep the doors open, the board says it is not bleak, but they are constantly thinking of creative ways to earn operating dollars. They don’t count much on the suggested $3 admission fee to the museum. The Milan ’54 Museum Foundation board recently sent out 600 letters to previous supporters and that netted $5,000. A successful casino night was held in Shelbyville with proceeds going to the museum. “It’s hard work to keep these doors open,” McKittrick acknowledged, but there is a foundation established for its future. She is a friend with former Governor Mitch Daniels, who is listed as a donor, but she doesn’t have those connections in the state anymore. If she did, she’d love to get interstate signage up on I -74. “We had instant response when billboards were placed several years ago. The billboard owner donated the space,” she said. Over $375,000 was raised four years ago to renovate and expand the bank into a museum, which was accomplished in 2013. Grants and donations have helped with operating funds. Insurance, staffing, utilities and building maintenance (a new roof is on the wish list) are regular expenses. There is one paid part-time employee, retired teacher Susan Cottingham.

The local community has undoubtedly heard and perhaps even tired of the famous sports story, but there’s a sizeable group these days that have not visited the museum at the renovated bank, nor when it was at the barber shop next door or the antique store years ago. They’re missing out on seeing such things as the hospital bed the assistant coach “Shooter” from the movie rested in to watch the big game, or the video of the actual game winning shot that plays. One of the “coolest” things the museum has is the large 8½ foot game bracket on the back walls, created by three Purdue students. They had created one for 1952, ’53 and ’54. The man who was in a nursing home said his kids wanted to throw it away, but he stopped them and called McKittrick. She cried tears of joy when the 1954 bracket arrived for the grand opening of the museum. It has 751 Indiana high schools on it. The original game is another visitor pleaser. It’s available to be watched in a room there, and some people will sit and watch the entire game, or at the least, fast forward to the last exciting minutes. The Milan ’54 Inc. owns both the museum building and the adjacent 100-year-old Nichols barber shop. The idea is to expand it and fill it with museum mementoes and with nostalgic barbershop or ’50’s era items. She has some creative ideas for mixing the barbershop (haircuts and history) with the ’54 museum.

The Milan ’54 Museum committee, made up of about a dozen people, meets monthly. March will bring many more visitors, due to March Madness basketball. The summer brings visitors too, 487 were counted. The next big thing is the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, where ’54 player Roger Schroder will be honored March 25. McKittrick is passionate about the team and museum and that’s where she gets her energy. But, she says it takes more than just one person to carry on the legend. The board and the committee are hard working and just as concerned about the museum’s future. McKittrick will do what it takes to keep the story alive, and the doors open. If that means opening on Christmas Eve to 47 athletes from Australia or talking with reporters for hours on end, then so be it. Again crediting the committee, players and board, she emphasizes, “No one does anything alone.” Then, always the pitch person, she adds. “Come and visit the Milan ’54 museum. Come see us!” Those who do find out it’s a first-rate museum with a great sports story, a treasure in a tiny town. And another way to show support, McKittrick says, is to attend local youth sports games. Memories are being made every day on courts, fields and tracks.

The Milan ’54 Museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. Donations can be made anytime by going online at or by mail to 201 W. Carr Street, PO Box 54, Milan, IN 47031.

Pick up this week's edition of the Osgood Journal for the stories below and more local news. Subscribe by clicking the subscribe link or call 812-689-6364.

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