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Why the Renovated Paseo YMCA Now Bears the Name “Buck O’Neil”

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s redevelopment of the old Paseo YMCA is nearing completion, according to NLBM president Bob Kendrick, who said the renovated building will help the museum share the history of the Negro Leagues with generations to come.

Scheduled to open in late spring or early summer, the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, 1824 Paseo, near the 18th and Vine Jazz District, is expected to provide students with real-life applications of math concepts and through the lens of baseball and the history of the Negro leagues.

“It gives us an opportunity to find a meaningful way to engage kids, especially urban kids, in math and science, but at the same time learn the history of the Negro leagues,” Kendrick said. “We think this is cutting edge. I don’t know of another facility in an urban community that offers this kind of experience.”

Kendrick said the museum — which he called “Kansas City’s gift to the world” — is working to create a curriculum that will give educators “an additional tool” to engage students more.

“You just have to believe that if I can make the subject more interesting, then academic performance will go up, because students are more interested,” Kendrick said. “It gets kind of experiential now — you’re actually able to apply what you’re learning.”

Click here to explore the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine Jazz District.

In addition to the NLBM Sports Science Center, the renovated building will house a comprehensive research library of rare books, oral histories, and African-American newspaper archives, all with the goal of providing visitors with a central archive of Negro league history.

In addition to that, the museum will use the expansion to create additional exhibits, classrooms and offices, all of which Kendrick says are badly needed to meet the increased demands.

“Right now we are forced to run our programs in the gallery. . . so we knew we needed additional space to maintain and grow these unique programming opportunities,” Kendrick said. “There are still so many stories to tell, and every time I want to tell a new story, I literally have to tear something out. it is optimal.

The Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center will also include a mixed-use events center and 13,000 square feet of leased office space, which will generate revenue and operating income for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kendrick said.

Spiritual leader of the museum

The new facility is named for John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Jr., who played and managed the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League and later became the first black coach in Major League Baseball.

“The thirst for knowledge always kept him going, which is why I called him a Renaissance man,” said Kendrick. “He said he wanted to learn something every single day, and I think that gave him an even greater joy and zeal for life – he motivated him. Education meant the world to him.

Who was Buck O’Neil? Click here to learn more about the Kansas City baseball legend.

Growing up, O’Neil was denied the opportunity to attend an all-white high school in her native Sarasota, Florida, according to Kendrick, who said O’Neil received an honorary diploma years later.

“He wanted to see the kids learn about the history of the Negro leagues, but perhaps more importantly, the life lessons that came with this incredible story of triumph over adversity,” Kendrick said.

O’Neil was instrumental in creating the museum in 1990 and always believed that creating this educational center was as important as any other aspect of its legacy, Kendrick said.

“When he didn’t enter the Hall of Fame in 2006, he made it clear that the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center was indeed his Hall of Fame,” Kendrick said. “Education has always been at the forefront of Buck O’Neil’s existence.”

O’Neil was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in July 2022, which Kendrick says has bolstered the museum with “more than renewed hope and optimism.”

“It’s the realization of something we’ve worked so diligently on for so many years,” said Kendrick.

Even now, more than 15 years after his death, Kendrick said he feels O’Neil is still “guiding my steps.”

“Spiritually, he is still leading this museum and has re-energized and created opportunities for us to continue to grow and advance this museum.”

100 year old connection

Much like Buck O’Neil, the story of the Negro Leagues cannot be told without the Paseo YMCA, one of the first Black YMCA locations in the country.

On February 13, 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster led a group of eight independent black baseball team owners to a meeting at the Paseo YMCA.

When they emerged, they had come to an agreement that would establish the Negro National League, the first successful organized black baseball league.

“So to me, the Paseo YMCA is the most significant Negro league artifact in existence,” Kendrick said. “Now, we often don’t look at old buildings as an artifact, but in this case we do, because it’s the very place where history began that we are now charged with preserving.”

RELATED: A 1920 meeting at the Paseo YMCA gave black baseball a championship of its own

More recently, however, the building sat abandoned for decades, Kendrick said, until philanthropist Landon Rowland bought the structure from the city in the early 2000s and donated it to the museum with hopes of establishing future expansion. .

The project took longer than expected, Kendrick admitted, as the NLBM took a phased approach to the renovations to protect itself from financial risk as a non-profit organization.

After more than a decade of gradual renovations while maintaining the building’s structural integrity — a project Kendrick says was spearheaded by Ollie Gates — the event space was finally ready to open, only to be vandalized and flooded in June 2018.

“Needless to say, my heart sank into my gut, because in that moment I realized that all the work we had done had probably been destroyed,” Kendrick recalled seeing the damage.

To make matters worse, NLBM’s insurance company refused to pay damages totaling about $500,000, forcing the museum to essentially restart the process.

“The history of the Negro Leagues is about triumphing over adversity, and as I always tell people, as a steward of history, you can’t wallow in self-pity,” Kendrick said. “You have to find a way, because it would be doing everyone who calls the Negro Leagues home a disservice.”

Through a combination of public and private funding, including large contributions from the MLB and Royals organization, the museum has effectively found a way to do the much-needed renovations twice.

“There has been nothing traditional about the way this museum has emerged through, now, nearly 33 years of its existence,” said Kendrick. “In many ways, it makes the journey so much more meaningful, so much sweeter, because you’re doing it against the odds.”

Former Paseo YMCA gymnasium

Restored Paseo YMCA gymnasium, now the events center for the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center

Black baseball equals a legacy of success

As the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum embarks on a new chapter in its history, Kendrick knows its continued importance rests on conveying the historic importance and relevance of black baseball to visitors young and old.

“Historically, we’ve been doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and I think civically as well,” he said. “We’re just doing what we, as an institution, have an obligation to do. Not many museums are born bearing the weight of an entire community and we welcome this challenge. I think that’s why so many identify with this museum.”

The museum provides an opportunity for non-Blacks to learn about Black success stories, Kendrick said, so they have a more complete and accurate picture of African Americans beyond slavery, police brutality, racism and the injustices of civil rights.

“Most of the stories in the annals of African American history have been these kinds of downtrodden stories,” Kendrick said. “Now, we’ve always risen above it, but it’s been the history of slavery, our pursuit of civil rights in this country. We rarely focus on our success stories.”

“This is part of my journey towards citizenship in this country,” she added. “But my success stories are equally important, because you won’t find much in common in those things that I’ve had to experience on this trip to this country.”

“Not too many people can relate to that,” she continued. “You may empathize with it, but you can’t relate to it. But you can relate to my success stories and you need to see those pictures of me. The story of the Negro Leagues is one of those great African American success stories, and to me, that’s what makes it so relevant, so powerful, and so compelling.

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