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Lease Approved On Robinson Museum

BY NICK DERISO
THE NEWS STAR

In passing, Eddie Robinson might finally spark the completion of a long-delayed museum project devoted to his accomplishments at Grambling State.

The University of Louisiana System board, which oversees GSU, on Friday approved a lease agreement to provide exhibit space on campus. Millions of dollars in state funding could quickly follow.

Friday's agreement transfers use of the former women's basketball gymnasium to the Secretary of State's Office, which is to oversee museum operations. The term of the lease is 99 years, with a fee of $1 annually that's payable at any time during the fiscal year.

The move came 24 days after Robinson died from complications related to Alzheimer's.
Museum proponents, at work on this project for eight years now, recognized the tidal wave of emotion surrounding Robinson's death for moving their efforts along.

"Hallelujah!" enthused Wilbert Ellis, one of the project's chief local organizers. "Let me tell you what: Everybody got on board. This is everything we have waited for."

Robinson led the football program at Grambling State for nearly 60 years, retiring in 1997 as the winningest coach in Division I history with 408 wins. He also mentored four future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees and won 17 conference titles along the way.

A bill to fund a facility that would honor those storied accomplishments was passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 1999, but the plans stalled after hitting a series of snags — including disagreements over a site — before the museum board was reconstituted in 2005. Ellis was a primary negotiator in the talks, beginning last year, to house the Robinson memorabilia in the former women's gym on campus.

In the meantime, Robinson began to suffer from Alzheimer's-like symptoms, something his family believes was brought on by a series of strokes. He died on April 3 at age 88.

"As this museum is about to happen, we realize what a great thing it is for the family," said Eddie Robinson Jr., the coach's only son. "To have it become reality is a tremendous thing. That's the way we look at it — not how long it took."

Robinson's widow, Doris, instructed that 4,000 brochures with information on the proposed museum be distributed during subsequent memorials held at the Capitol in Baton Rouge. They disappeared in a matter of hours during the public viewing of Robinson's body.

Several speakers then forcefully argued that the museum project should be fast-tracked during services for Robinson that followed in Grambling.

Everything began falling into place, said John Belton, a governor-appointed museum board member.

Once the lease agreement was ratified by the ULS board, the Secretary of State's Office then pledged on Friday to fund an annual budget for two employees, necessary supplies, equipment and utilities, Belton said.

The state's Bond Commission is now expected to approve a $1.3 million line of credit in May for renovations and to underwrite the museum's initial exhibits, Belton said.

"I can think of no greater way to immortalize Coach Eddie Robinson than to ensure his legacy of hope, determination, and extraordinary leadership will be instilled in the hearts and minds of generations to come," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a statement on Friday. "This measure will go before the Bond Commission next month with my full support."

That funding would be available in July, Belton said. Organizers then hope to open the museum in a year to 18 months.

"Once it gets started, it will become real very quickly," Ellis said. "To see coach walking away into the sunset, but to know that his work will still be recognized, it means so much. We wished he could have been in the audience, but we know Coach Robinson was somewhere nearby giving us that big smile."

The 8,000-square-foot gym, which was being used as practice space by GSU spirit groups, became vacant with the opening of a new Health, Physical Education and Recreation facility on campus. It will have to be renovated to provide display space and climate control, but is well-positioned for visitors in a visible spot next to GSU's administration building, Long-Jones Hall.

 

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The Eddie G. Robinson Museum is a landmark that officially recognizes the outstanding contributions to the state of Louisiana, the nation, the world and the game of football made by Coach Eddie G. Robinson.  - more