Someone recently asked me why I’ve spent so much of my career working and volunteering for not-for-profit organizations and charities. I responded that I wouldn’t be here today without the benefit of charity because I’m a charity case myself.
Gifts “From a Friend”
When my mother was a few weeks away from giving birth to me, she woke up one morning with a pounding headache and fever. It got worse as the day went on, and by evening, she couldn’t get out of bed. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with the virus spreading across the globe—the poliovirus. By the next morning, she was in an iron lung, paralyzed from the neck down, and unable to breathe. Polio turned her world upside down, literally overnight.
A few days later, terrified and claustrophobic from the iron lung, she received an envelope delivered to her room with a check and an unsigned note that read “From a friend.” My dad was a rural route mail carrier for the US Post Office. We had enough to get by, but not enough to pay for my mother’s long rehabilitation, learning how to maneuver in a wheelchair. The checks from the anonymous “friend” kept arriving. Ultimately, they paid for my mother to go to Warm Springs, Georgia, where President Roosevelt had created a center for polio patients to learn to live independently with the effects of the virus. When she arrived back home to New Albany, Indiana, the checks continued and allowed for a taxi to take her to a pool where she could continue her rehabilitation by swimming each morning.
My mother eventually regained the use of her upper body but spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. My brother was born three years later. We never found out the identity of that “friend.” However, his or her generosity made all the difference in the world for my family.
A Hoosier Tradition
How does this story relate to my new position at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum? My mother’s condition meant we didn’t travel much. We planned life around annual activities at home in New Albany—Christmas, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving. Our extended family lived close by, so family gatherings were important and frequent. One tradition that stands out, however, was Memorial Day. It meant the official start of summer, but it also meant the radio broadcast of the Indianapolis 500. The entire day revolved around that broadcast from far-off Indianapolis, listening to the animated Sid Collins describe the lap-by-lap excitement of the “500.” Lazy Sunday activities—washing the car, a cookout, games in the yard–continued with the backdrop of the “500” radio broadcast. To me, it was an annual tradition. It was part of being a Hoosier.
So now, I’m at a pinch-myself part of life. Here I am, in the midst of the “500”—in person! I consider myself very lucky. I always look forward to coming to work each day, surrounded by one of the most iconic sporting venues in the world.
Your New Museum
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is at an exciting moment in its evolution. Our terrific staff and board are working hard to envision a new Museum that offers both entertainment and education, all centered around the Indianapolis 500. We want a Museum that offers something for everyone. This includes interactive and immersive exhibits that are stimulating and exciting and experiences that are fun and appropriate for all ages and interests.
The Museum belongs to you—our supporters, members, donors, and visitors. Your support, participation, and feedback inform our future. We wouldn’t be here without the benefit of your charity.