Wrestling Museum to move to Waterloo Iowa

By Kyle Klingman | May 05, 2006, 2:22 p.m. (ET)
The International Wrestling Institute and Museum, founded in 1997, will soon have a new name and a new location.

The facility opened its doors on Sept. 18, 1998, in Newton, Iowa. Later this year, it will re-open its doors in Waterloo, Iowa, and will be called the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum.

The move was announced at a press conference at city hall in Waterloo, March 29. Executive Director Mike Chapman, flanked by Gable and Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley, told the news media that it was a move designed to expand the museum and its mission, and to honor Waterloo's most famous native.
"We originally selected Newton because it is situated along Interstate 80 with nearly 9,000,000 cars a year going past the building," said Chapman. "It's been a successful eight years, but we felt that in order to grow and expand, we needed to be in a bigger population area with a much stronger wrestling tradition."

Newton is a city of 15,000 and its high school has never won a wrestling state championship. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls area is over 130,000 population and six different area high schools have won a total of 37 team championships in wrestling. In addition, the University of Northern Iowa, with its own strong heritage in the sport, is just five miles from where the museum will be located.

Then there is the Gable factor.

"This is Dan's hometown and the city has been looking for a way to honor Dan for over a decade," said Chapman. "When we first presented the idea to the mayor and Don Temeyer, community planning and development director, they were extremely supportive. The concept has taken wings and flown to heights we didn't anticipate. It's been a wonderful experience for everyone, including Dan, to see the reception."

"This is a natural for Waterloo and the entire Cedar Valley area," said Hurley. "We are very excited to have this opportunity to honor Dan Gable and to help the museum grow and expand. We envision the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum being a key player in the extensive redevelopment plans for all of Waterloo and the Cedar Valley area. It will be our crown jewel."

The city has leased the museum a 21,000 square foot building for $1 a year, said Chapman. Currently, the museum is in an 8,000 square foot building and needs space to grow and expand in many areas.

The museum plans to double the space for its popular gift shop, and for its hall of fame inductions and receptions. There are currently three halls of fame featured in the museum and there are plans for two more. Those already included are:
The Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame of Iowa, where formers Iowa stars are inducted;

The AAU National Wrestling Hall of Fame;

The George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, where professional wrestlers, who wrestled in real matches (not the show business characters of today), are honored.

Other prominent areas in the facility are the Dean Rockwell Library and Research Center, with over 350 books and thousands of magazines and newspapers, as well as a library of wrestling films, and a video center, where films of wrestling are shown. Included are clips that feature movie stars like Tom Cruise and Kirk Douglas in wrestling scenes, and the oldest professional championship match known to exist, from 1920.

The museum has areas dedicated to the careers of such legendary stars as Alexander Karelin of Russia, John Smith and Cael Sanderson. It has displays that tell about the history of the sport over the past 5,000 years. It has been endorsed by FILA, the international governing body of the sport.

There will also be a Bob Siddens-Keith Young Lounge, named for two of the best-known high school coaches in the history of the sport.

Siddens coached at West Waterloo for 27 years and produced 11 state team championships, as well as such stars as Gable and Dale Anderson, a two-time NCAA champion at Michigan State who was a leader in the Title IX battle for years. Young was a three-time NCAA champion at Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), and led Cedar Falls High School to five team titles as a coach.

Matman has been the primary corporate sponsor to date. Other companies that have supported the museum through the years are USA Wrestling, the AAU, Asics, Brute, Iowa Public Television and Real Pro Wrestling.

"We have enjoyed tremendous support from some other companies, and from individuals like Warren DePrenger, Arno Niemand, Glen Brand, Dean Rockwell, Bill Tragos and Jason Sanderson. We simply would not be in existence today without their support," said Chapman.

"Another key has been the long list of Gold Club members, people who have donated a minimum of $1,000. Their support has been critical to our existence."

The museum, a not-for-profit company, is run by a board of directors and it had been contemplating a move from Newton for well over a year. Board President Jed Brown said the time was ripe for such a move.

"By relocating to Waterloo and renaming the Institute to honor Dan Gable, we have substantially increased our national and international exposure and credibility," said Brown. "As such, our ability to accomplish our mission statement and influence the sport of wrestling has been greatly enhanced."

The board set a minimum of one million dollars that needed to be raised in order for the move to be approved. Bob Buckley, president and owner of Kirk Gross Company in Waterloo, spearheaded a fundraising drive that reached the $1,000,000-mark in less than six months.

"I've never seen a project with this much support," said Buckley, who has worked on several other area campaigns. "We did not get turned down by a single group or individual that we approached. The response has been amazing, at every level. We expect to go way beyond the $1,000,000 the board requested and to build an endowment fund, as well."

Most of the money raised will go toward the redesign and refurbishing of the building in Waterloo, the physical move of the display items and office equipment, acquisition of memorabilia now in private hands, and increased staffing for marketing and development of programs and events to achieve the mission statement of the museum.

In Waterloo, the museum will be just two blocks from Young Arena, a modern and popular sports facility that seats 4,000 people, and just one and a half blocks from the Five Sullivans Convention Center, a huge facility with various-sized convention areas and meeting rooms. The new building is also just two blocks from the Avenue of the Saints Highway, a major freeway connecting St. Louis, Missouri, with St. Paul, Minnesota.

"This is a very big honor," said Gable at the press conference. "I have talked with Waterloo officials several times over the past dozen years about ways to make something happen. It seems like things kept falling through, for one reason or another.

"All of a sudden, when this popped up and there was a real avenue, people stepped up big time. I was surprised and, frankly, humbled by the response. It was more than I ever expected. It shook me up real good a couple of times," Gable added.

The Waterloo City Council and the Black Hawk County board of supervisors both made substantial donations to the facility, and the museum has applied for a state CAT (Community Attraction and Tourism Grant) for nearly $250,000. Gable appeared at all the meetings with Chapman and Buckley.

The museum will include a Dan Gable Teaching Facility, complete with mats, retractable bleachers and a small weight room and locker area. Gable and other wrestling personalities will conduct teaching seminars on a regular basis throughout the year.

"I want to help inspire youth to excel at whatever they want to try," said Gable, who was an undefeated three-time Iowa state champion while attending West Waterloo High School. He posted a record of 118-1 at Iowa State, for a combined seven-year scholastic record of 181-1. He won the World Championships in 1971 and won a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich without surrendering a single point. As head coach at Iowa, he won 21 straight Big Ten team titles and 15 NCAA team titles.

Gable was voted the No. 1 sports figure in Iowa history by Sports Illustrated in 2000 and serves on President Bush's Council on Physical Fitness. Three television documentaries about him have been made, he is the subject of half a dozen books and a film of his life is currently under development in Hollywood.

"This is a great opportunity for our city," added Hurley in the press conference. "It will bring a lot to our community in terms of tourism, education and community pride."

Chapman is also a native of Waterloo, and has run the museum since its founding in 1997. He also envisions a facility that will create more excitement for both the Waterloo community and wrestling in general.

"Our mission has always been to preserve the history of wrestling and present it in a manner that educates and entertains the public," he said. "We feel strongly that the best way to sell the sport to the general public is through its incredible history. Wrestling has a heritage that no other sport can even come close to, and we will tell that story every chance we get."

The museum has an outreach program that takes it on the road on a regular basis. It set up its booth at 15 different tournaments this past year, from Reno to Tulsa, from Kearney, Nebraska to the Nationals in Oklahoma City. It plans to increase the number of events it attends each year. It also has plans to enhance its web site and to hire a director of marketing.

"Creating traffic flow into the museum will be a top priority," said Chapman. "We have great stories to tell and we are going to work very hard to get tour busses and school groups to attend the museum. We feel we have a unique educational format for telling about world and American history."

The museum will host its celebrity golf tournament and pro hall of fame inductions on July 14-15 in Newton and close on September 2. It plans to open its doors in Waterloo early winter, 2006, with a Grand Opening slated for some time in January, 2007.