Packers Hall of Fame saving, sharing memories for 50 years
GREEN BAY – "What undoubtedly will be the largest collection of Packer memories ever amassed in one area will be unveiled July 1 at the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena when the Packer Hall of Fame museum officially opens."
Undoubtedly, too, the author of this first paragraph in a Green Bay Press-Gazette story 50 years ago announcing the opening of the Packers Hall of Fame had no idea what was over the horizon.
Fifty years on, the Hall of Fame, now located in the Lambeau Field Atrium, draws more than 170,000 visitors annually. It includes 80,000 artifacts and 157 inductees, with two more, Donald Driver and Mark Lee, on tap to join this year.
"We never dreamed it would have this much impact in the community," said Thomas Hutchison, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. director emeritus. "After 10 or 15 years, we knew it was going to last a while."
A modest start
Chuck Lane, former Packers public relations director, rattles off names of guys who contributed to formation of the hall and what became Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. They include Hutchison, Bill Brault, former arena manager and first president of the Green Bay Area Visitor and Convention Bureau; Art Daley, Al Schneider, Ben Laird, John Van Den Wymelenberg, Jim "Spice King" Ford, Sparky Meyer and others. And that guy named Vince Lombardi assented to the idea, as long as it wasn't a distraction to his players.
"It started with Tom Hutchison. Bill Brault was the logistics guy. Tom was the dreamer that came up with the idea," Lane said. "There were a lot of people working behind the scenes on that."
Brault set up tables and peg boards and display cases in concourses at the arena with items borrowed mostly from players. Fans had until Labor Day to see them because that's when the Green Bay Bobcats hockey team reclaimed the arena.
"It was pretty minor to what we have today," said Tom Murphy, Hall of Fame vice president and former archivist, continuing the theme of understatement.
The first hall of fame class, inducted in 1970, included eight members, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Curly Lambeau, Cal Hubbard, Johnny "Blood" McNally and Mike Michalske.
The hall moved into its own permanent building adjacent to the arena in 1976, with President Gerald Ford attending the ceremony. Hutchison said the Packers donated half the money for that building and put in more when it was expanded in 1980.
Years of growth
That 1976 building allowed the hall museum to really get off the ground.
"Tony Canadeo started it out by donating crates and crates of his stuff," Hutchison said. "And Marie Lombardi showed up with a shipment of 17 crates. Most of the original material was donated by players on their own."
Over time, fans made donations as well. Footballs with full-team signatures, historic programs, tickets stubs, jerseys and much more.
"When you consider how much some of these things could go for at sports auctions, and they are willing to share them so everybody can see it," Murphy said. "Is there any other fan base that would come together like that and share artifacts? I don't think so."
The museum moved to the lower level of the newly renovated Lambeau Field in 2003, and to its current ground-floor and second-floor space in the re-renovated atrium in 2015.
Murphy puts Bart Starr's donation of his championship rings and jewelry as the most memorable acquisitions.
"It qualifies in all categories to me as the most significant thing to come in," he said. "What the Starr family donated stands head and shoulders above everything else."
The hall of fame always looks for new old items to add to its collection.The most exciting recent acquisition, to be introduced later this year, is a pin from the Indian Packing Co., which gave the Packers their name.
"There aren't a lot of artifacts or even photos from the early years," said Brent Hensel, hall curator.
Also planned later this year is a temporary exhibit and celebration of the 50th anniversary, and a one-night presentation of "Shareholders: A Story of Resilience, Community and Pride," scheduled for July 23 in the Legends Club room in the Lambeau Field Atrium.
The hall already is gearing up for the Packers' 100th anniversary(s). The team will celebrate its 100th year of play in 2018, and it's 100th anniversary — its birthday — in 2019.
Lane, who's seen a lot of amazing things in his years with and around the Packers, said he was surprised at how the hall evolved.
"I thought it would be one of the great marketing tools for the Green Bay Packers," he said, but it became more than that.
What: "Shareholders: A Story of Resilience, Community and Pride," with Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, former President/CEO Bob Harlan, Director of Public Affairs Aaron Popkey and team historian Cliff Christl. They will share stories about how stock sales and community support helped the Packers survive.
When: 3 p.m., July 23
Where: Legends Club, Lambeau Field Atrium
Cost: $25 per person, which includes admission to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Space is limited, Purchase at http://bit.ly/2tvgNlC.