Wichita, Kansas

Bringing the Past Alive: The Campaign for Old Cowtown Museum

Ever since Horace Greeley offered his now famous advice to, “Go west, young man, go west,” the national trend of westward expansion has broad stroked excitement and adventure across the canvas of America. The bustle of commerce and jet streams of air traffic belie the barrenness that first awaited pioneers and their progeny to what is now Wichita, Kansas. “When early pioneers such as Darius Munger or William Greiffenstein came to Wichita, there wasn’t much here – certainly no indication of what the city would become. Somehow these early citizens saw the potential of the place, realizing what they could build with a little imagination and a lot of hard work. All of us who live here now benefit from their vision,” said Clark Bastian, campaign chairman for Bringing the Past Alive: The Campaign for Old Cowtown Museum.

Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum is an educational institution dedicated to preserving and presenting Wichita and Sedgwick County, Kansas history from 1865 to 1880. The institution’s parent corporation, Historic Wichita-Sedgwick County, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates the Old Cowtown Museum. Cowtown is an example of the growing interest in public and private partnership. Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita, as well the private sector support the Museum. Allocations from the County and City comprise over half of the Museum’s operating budget, while income from admission fees, facilities rentals, memberships, charitable contributions, and other earned revenues offset the remaining budget.

In late 1995, a strategic planning committee began formulating a vision for what Cowtown could ultimately become. After years of research and discussion, the consulting firm of Kinetic and Associates was retained late in 1997 to conduct a campaign assessment. The Board’s dedication and enthusiasm for the Museum – its history and its future – necessitated a bold step for the organization. Cowtown was already a premier tourist attraction, enjoyed by more than 50,000 visitors a year; but the Board recognized a greater role for Cowtown in expanding its educational programs.

The original campaign goal was set at $4.3 million, including $500,000 for endowment. The largest piece of the campaign, an education center, was designed to include exhibit galleries, a 120-seat theater, two education classrooms, a museum store, a museum volunteer support area, and staff offices. An orientation video in the theater and a permanent exhibit gallery awaits visitors, transporting them back through time to life in the 1870’s. As one of the standard field trips for Kansas students, Cowtown’s new education center will provide classrooms for before and after tour discussions. Workshops, seminars, and symposiums will also have an indoor forum for events year round.

In addition to the education center, other historic features to be underwritten by the capital campaign include: an eight-acre farmstead, the Blood family homestead and orchard, a carriage and wagon shop, a milliner and dressmaker’s shop, and a planing mill.

The quiet phase of the campaign included good participation from board members. In May of 1999, Lynn Hawks was brought in from Kinetic and Associates to serve as the campaign’s resident counsel. Said Gloria Campbell, Cowtown’s Executive Director, “We couldn’t have done it without the help and direction we received from Kinetic and Associates. Our resident counsel, Lynn Hawks, took our ideas and shaped them into action. The firm kept our organization on track and Lynn was fabulous. She was well integrated into the staff and worked very hard. She wasn’t afraid to be candid about what was working and what was not. It was always presented in a very constructive way. We would like to keep the campaign going just to keep Lynn around!””

A public announcement came at the end of 1999. An official campaign newsletter and various public relations and marketing materials generated new visibility and interest in the campaign. The campaign was already over half way to the $4.3 goal. Through its partnership with Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita, the Museum received a cash gift of $1,650,000. Foundations and corporations joined in with gifts, including: the Knight Foundation, DeVore Foundation, Lear Jet, Boeing, and Fidelity Bank Charities.

“Early on in the campaign, Cowtown experienced one of those fund-raising anomalies where an unanticipated gift comes in from an unexpected source. A woman had included Cowtown in her estate plan and the gift was substantial. You can’t plan for this, but when it happens, the gift is greatly appreciated.”

Other gifts came from Kansas supporters: Wildcat Construction, Goebel Family Foundation, Fred R. and Mary C. Koch, and Cessna. The Housholders, a family with several generations connected to Wichita, gave generously to the campaign. However, there were disappointments, too. “We were turned down by Kresge. Afterward, we went back to private individuals and they stepped in with support and financial weight,” offered Hawks.

Campaigns always require perseverance and this one called for dogged determination. “We hit a plateau around the end of 1999. Then we received word about a very significant gift from Cessna. This was a real boost to the campaign. We were literally dancing in the halls after hearing the news,” Hawks said.

“The board, staff, and volunteers for this campaign showed incredible fortitude and strength of commitment to the vision. They stayed the course, and while it took slightly longer than we expected, they were willing to see it through to the end despite the obstacles.”

A volunteer, who had served Cowtown for 25 years designated a large, planned gift. The gift took the campaign beyond its endowment goal and with board agreement, the total amount was adjusted up from $4.3 to $4.5 million.

Said Campbell, “I’m thrilled that we’re just about there. The projects that will be built will allow the Museum to grow as it needs to serve visitors.” Groundbreaking for the new education center is scheduled for spring, 2001.

“My ancestors came out west in covered wagons. They lived this ‘cowtown’ pioneer life. I want my children to understand and appreciate this period in our family history . . . to see it, to smell it, to experience it,” said Chairman Bastian. Cowtown’s successful $4.5 million campaign will go a long way in bringing this past alive.