By: Marisa Herman
American history comes alive through the lens of sporting events in a new, free, open-to-the public museum on the campus of Florida Atlantic University.
The Avron B. Fogelman Sports Memorabilia Collection opened to students, faculty and the general public last month.
Located inside the new Schmidt Family Complex for Academic Excellence, the collection was donated by Boca resident, former Kansas City Royals owner and sports fan Avron Fogelman.
Considered to be one of the largest private collections owned by an individual, the $10 million worth of memorabilia is now housed on campus and is free to view in perpetuity.
“It will redefine our campus,” FAU president John Kelly said during a preview reception debuting the museum. “I think people will fly out from all over to see this.”
Inside, there is a display of Olympic torches including ones used in the 1936 Berlin, 1948 London and 1972 Munich games; the 13 original rules of basketball by James Naismith; first pitch baseballs thrown by various United States presidents and celebrities; a football signed by the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and hundreds of other items.
The collection houses more than 1,200 sports artifacts that reveal pivotal moments in American history.
“It’s a true public treasure,” said Danita Nias, Vice president of Institutional Advancement and CEO of the FAU Foundation as she announced Fogelman before the ribbon cutting of the museum.
Nias said he explored donating his collection to Memphis University, Tulane and the Memphis airport before he met with FAU president Kelly and their vision for the collection aligned.
“This is a very special day for me,” Fogelman said. “This museum represents so much to me. For over 50 years, sports, education and history have been intertwined in my life.”
He said each exhibit has a story and visitors should read all they can and try to imagine what they see and hear with each piece.
The 1996 MLB National League Rookie of the Year and Miami Marlins co-announcer Todd Hollandsworth got to see his Rookie of the Year baseball on display.
“I am proud to be a part of it,” he said of the exhibit.
The former outfielder played on the Florida Marlins 2003 world series team and said seeing his Rookie of the Year ball made him emotional.
“The only thing I have seen in my lifetime that rivals it is the Hall of Fame,” he said.
Other notable items:
Items signed by crew members of the Enola Gay, the mission responsible for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan
Golf memorabilia from legends such as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods
A 1930s-era football signed by Jim Thorpe and helmet autographed by Bronco Nagurski
An array of pieces from Muhammad Ali
The 1969 Ryder Cup Trophy
Interactive displays including a recording of Fogelman’s phone call with President Ronald Reagan after the Royals won the 1985 World Series
A pair of the late Kobe Bryant’s autographed sneakers and a jersey from his rookie season
We had a chance to ask Avron Fogelman some questions about his collection and decision to donate it. Here is what he had to say:
How did you get into collecting sports memorabilia?
I’ve always been a sports fan and collector. Ever since I owned a major league baseball team, I’ve been enthralled with the history of sports and the uniqueness of the game. Being a collector is what I’ve been passionate about for the past 50 years.
Why did you decide to donate your collection?
I think it’s important to leave something to society and to the next generation. This sports museum is a way for the next generation to know about the previous generation.
It’s very important not just for me but for the sake of students and for the university and for the city of Boca Raton to be able to have something so unique and unusual, and be able to tie in sports, history, politics, and all the different aspects of our society in this museum, captured through the lens of sports. For example, there’s a baseball in the museum signed by Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine – and many people still don’t know about him. When they see his name on a baseball, they’ll now be able to wonder who he was and they’ll know now that he was the first person to cure polio.
Why did you choose FAU as the home for your collection?
I had the opportunity to donate my collection to a number of different institutions and facilities but after speaking to FAU’s President, Dr. John Kelly, and listening to his vision of how he thought this museum could be used, I decided to let it be housed at FAU.
What is your favorite item in the collection?
Oh, I can’t pick a favorite – they’re all important and valuable to me. I truly love every aspect of these items. They each represent a particular purpose and give a specific explanation of our history and culture through sports. Babe Ruth is iconic and represents Americana at its finest.
What item in the exhibit is most meaningful to you?
Probably one of the most valuable artifacts we have in the museum is the 13 original rules of basketball, written by James Naismith. I also have the pen that he used to write them. To be able to have the handwritten notes of the man who invented basketball and to have it on display…well I think that’s pretty special.
What was your reaction when you saw the exhibit for the first time?
I thought it was just terrific. It’s exactly as I had imagined it. Dr. John Kelly and the entire FAU team I worked with have done a marvelous job of putting it all together. I’m just very proud of this museum and of the ability to have my accomplishments on display in the sports world. This collection pretty well captures the embodiment of my exposure to sports and the people I knew and the experiences I had.