The Feller Museum’s status as the only free-standing building dedicated to a single baseball player hasn’t helped either.
According to research by the Feller board, there are 16 baseball museums that are near a major or minor-league stadium, such as Ted Williams’ Museum and Hitter Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg and the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum near Camden Yards in Baltimore. Most of the other facilities honoring baseball are in close proximity to steady foot traffic.
The Feller Museum might as well be in the middle of nowhere.
Though it sits just 20 miles from downtown Des Moines, the suburban sprawl that has enveloped Iowa’s largest city ends abruptly with a row of townhouses about 10 miles from the Van Meter exit off the highway.
Folks still willing to make such a trip are getting harder to find.
Iowa resident Bill Sumpter recently brought three somewhat disinterested nieces from Indiana to visit the museum at the behest of their great grandfather, who remembered when Feller was one of the greats of the game.
“It was interesting. But I could see where it would be hard to get enough people to keep it open,” Sumpter said. “It is sad.”
But there is hope that some semblance of the Feller Museum can live on in Van Meter.
In late January, the city proposed taking over the museum and putting it in a trust. City administrator Jake Anderson said Van Meter could then move either its city hall or library into the existing museum and leave a portion of the building as a scaled-down memorial to Feller.
Indians senior vice president Bob DiBiaso said that although the team has given “six figures” to the museum over time, it doesn’t have plans to donate additional funds because that won’t solve a business model that’s become untenable. But DiBiaso also said that the Indians support the city’s plan and are committed to maintaining Feller’s legacy in Van Meter and Cleveland.
The Indians would hold onto much of the memorabilia the museum no longer had room for as part of a plan officials hope can be finalized by the end of the summer.
“It’s an iconic part of the community’s identity. The brick mural with Bob’s face on it is part of our brand,” Anderson said. “It was important that the city act.”
If the Feller Museum could draw folks in like Fat Randi’s does with its pork tenderloins, it might stay open forever. Though that’s no longer realistic, Van Rees and her customers share the desire to see the town’s claim to fame stay open any way it can.
“It’s Bob Feller. It’s small-town Iowa. There might be 1,000 people in this town, including the cats and dogs. But to have a famous person from this town, and you put a memorial up in his honor, you build this beautiful building, and now you can’t support it?” Van Rees said. “Somebody, including myself, will come up with some ideas to do something to hopefully try.”