Modest Paul Simon Museum is forced to shut its doors

Tribute to Illinois' popular senator is a victim of reduced funding, low profile.
2012-06-24T00:10:00Z 2012-09-10T15:31:22Z Modest Paul Simon Museum is forced to shut its doorsBY TERRY HILLIG thillig@post-dispatch.com 618-659-2075 stltoday.com

TROY, ILL. • A small museum that honors this city's most famous former resident will close at the end of this month, but its legacy may live on.

Since 2005, the U.S. Sen. Paul Simon Museum has displayed photographs, newspaper clippings, books, campaign buttons and other political memorabilia related to the life of Simon, the former crusading Troy newspaperman, author, state legislator, lieutenant governor, congressman, U.S. senator and 1988 presidential candidate.

Though there are items of interest to Simon admirers and history buffs — a camera, a desk and chair from Simon's newspaper office and, of course, several of his signature bow ties — the museum's holdings are not extensive. The whole collection fits within rented space at the rear of an insurance office at 532 Edwardsville Road.

Recently, the museum had been open only by appointment. Now, there is no longer enough money to pay the rent, according to Regina Dunbar Hendrickson, the current president of the museum board and a City Council member.

"We're very, very disappointed," Hendrickson said.

The museum spent $500 monthly for rent and had about $100 in other expenses, she said. The museum had received as much as $8,000 in financial support from the city in some years but got only $2,000 last year.

Hendrickson said fellow City Council members had decided to use tourism tax money to fund only events, not rent. The museum didn't even ask for funding this year.

"They don't see the benefit," she said. "I didn't want to make it political."

She said museum supporters raised $1.25 for every dollar provided by the city over the years, but some council members didn't think the museum was enough of a tourist attraction to warrant continued city support. And, she said, the museum board didn't feel it could continue to ask for private support without an assurance that the museum could keep a roof over its head.

A LABOR OF LOVE

Darrell Hampsten, then a Troy alderman, came up with the idea for the museum in 2005 and served as its first president.

The museum was more than a collection of artifacts; it provided educational programs for young people aimed at promoting some of the goals that Simon sought to advance, including public and community service, volunteerism, and knowledge of other languages and cultures.

The museum has been a labor of love for its volunteers but especially so for Hendrickson, who was an intern in Simon's Washington office in 1983, when he was a congressman from Southern Illinois. Hendrickson is originally from Marion in Southern Illinois.

"Never in my wildest dream did I think I would wind up in Troy," she said, but that's what happened when her husband took a job at Scott Air Force Base. She became involved with the museum shortly after its founding and has served on the City Council since 2008.

Simon was 19 when he — with help from the local Lions Club — took over the struggling Troy Tribune in 1948 and became the nation's youngest newspaper editor and publisher. The Tribune aggressively exposed prostitution, illegal gambling and corruption in Madison County.

After two years in the Army, Simon was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1954 and the Illinois Senate in 1962. During his 14 years in the Legislature, he won the Independent Voters of Illinois' "Best Legislator Award" each year. He was elected Illinois lieutenant governor in 1968 and narrowly lost to Dan Walker in the 1972 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Simon then taught at Sangamon State University in Springfield, now the University of Illinois at Springfield. He moved to the Carbondale area in 1974 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the House for 10 years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988.

Upon leaving the Senate in 1997, Simon joined the faculty at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and founded a think tank, the Public Policy Institute, there. Simon was 75 when he died in 2003 from complications after heart surgery.

COLLECTION DISPERSED

The museum will soon be gone, but its holdings will be placed in good hands, and its programs, Hendrickson hopes, will live on.

She said some of the items will go to the think tank, now called the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Other items will go to the Tri-Township Library in Troy and to Troy City Hall, all with the understanding they will be returned if the museum is revived or a new community museum is established.

Hendrickson said a house on Market Street in Troy where Simon lived with his wife, Jeanne, and their children from 1960 to 1974 may be on the market soon, and she thinks it would be a great place for a museum.

As for the youth programs, Hendrickson said, "We'll give it a respite and then regroup."

She hopes to see them resumed, perhaps with partnering organizations, to perpetuate Simon's principles of participation in community and public affairs.

Copyright 2015 stltoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

ACTIVATE YOUR DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION

Get weekly ads via e-mail