The fun history in sports memorabilia collecting

Program Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, at museum in Jefferson

~by  Chuck Offenburger for the Greene County Historical Society

When Jefferson hosts the traveling “Smithsonian Hometown Teams” exhibit this summer, the whole idea is to present an informed portrayal about the role of sports – all aspects of sports – in our culture.

And preliminary programming on that point begins Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18. The Greene County Historical Society and Jefferson Matters: Main Street will host well-known local sports memorabilia collectors Kevin Richards and Tom Powers in a free program at 2 pm at the historical museum in Jefferson. They will share favorite items of their extensive collections and the stories that go with those treasures.

Both Richards and Powers are longtime teachers in the Greene County Schools. Richards is in his 29th year teaching elementary and middle school art, and Powers taught in physical education and science for 38 years before his retirement from the classroom in 2013. He continued coaching another couple years until he totaled 40 years directing young athletes. He continues to be a frequent color commentator for KGRA radio’s play-by-play broadcaster Doug Rieder on coverage of Greene County High School Rams games.

Richards, who grew up in Boone, and Powers, a native of Lohrville, became sports fans in boyhood. Both started collecting sports memorabilia in the early to mid 1980s. They now have huge collections, with the focus on baseball but with representation of other sports, broadcasters, sports authors and more. They’ve got hundreds of autographed baseballs, dozens of “bobbleheads,” classic photographs and artwork, jerseys, caps and Richards even has two seats from Yankee Stadium when it was rebuilt.

His collection covers most of their basement. “Kevin has the ‘man cave’ of all man caves down there,” said Powers. “My own collection fills up a storage unit I keep, and now I’ve started using some space in our basement, too.”

They work together often when they go to regional and national sports memorabilia shows, where they do some buying and selling, “but really spend more time checking out everybody else’s collections,” Powers said.

Richards is well known for his pencil portraits of college and professional athletes, most of them created after studying photos. He did the first of those in 1990, of his favorite baseball player Don Mattingly, of the New York Yankees, and he gave Mattingly a copy of it when they met in the player’s hometown of Evansville, IN.

“I’ll bet I’ve done 70 of those drawings of different players over the years,” Richards said. “I notice when I give them prints, the college players really like them, but the pros don’t really care – they’ve seen so many photos of themselves it’s just not a big deal.”

Powers notes that the two collectors do a lot of kidding about their favorite baseball teams. For Richards, that’s the New York Yankees. For Powers, it’s the New York Mets. They wore those teams’ jerseys for their photo together.

Another major sports memorabilia collector in Greene County is Randy Bunkers, of glazed donuts fame, who retired from business last fall. At his first bakery, he often displayed some of his favorite baseball cards and autographs in one of his glass cases for baked goods. Later, Bunkers opened a sports memorabilia shop “Home Plate” in a former jewelry store on the north side of the square. When he was ready to give that up, Powers took it over and operated “Home Plate” from 1999 to 2010.

In the series of programs leading up to the Smithsonian exhibit, there will also be presentations on bicycling and RAGBRAI, another on sports photography, and possibly others. In addition, wrestling legend Dan Gable, who is serving as honorary chairperson of the Smithsonian exhibit for its six stops across Iowa this year, will also be speaking in Jefferson at a yet-undetermined date.

The Smithsonian exhibit, which will be at the museum in Jefferson from Aug. 11 thru Sept. 23, is said to be of top professional quality. It is being sponsored across the state by the Main Street Iowa program of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Roger Aegerter, executive director of the Historical Society, said the Smithsonian exhibit will give “residents and visitors here an opportunity to experience a real Smithsonian exhibit on a topic that almost all rural Iowa and Greene County people can relate to – hometown sports.

“We’re also having each community in the county come up with displays of their own sports memorabilia,” Aegerter continued. “We’re encouraging them to display those in their towns during the early summer, and then move their displays to the museum in Jefferson during the Smithsonian exhibit.”

Sports-related displays are already being rotated in and out of the front window at the Masonic building in downtown Jefferson.

Aegerter said the reach of the “hometown teams” theme “is almost endless – from football to Special Olympics, gymnastics, marching band, cheerleading, the Scranton professional football team that played for several years,” and more. And the Sierra Community Theatre is planning a sports movie marathon in August.

Something of interest for nearly everybody.

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