By PAT KINNEY, Courier News Editor
WATERLOO — A $400,000 repair and renovation of the flood-damaged Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum began today.
Museum officials have received word the Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated the bulk of funding necessary for the renovation work to begin.
It’s hoped the museum, which has been closed since the June 10 downtown flood, will reopen in time for the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals wrestling tournament at the UNI-Dome Jan. 9-11, said Mike Chapman, the museum’s founder and executive director.
Chapman, accompanied by Gable, the Waterloo-born wrestling legend for whom the museum is named, made the announcement as U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley and other officials surveyed museum damage as part of a tour today of flood damage in eastern Iowa.
“FEMA has obligated enough money that we feel confident in proceeding,” Chapman said. “We’ll be back in business, we hope, by the National Duals. We’re convinced if we get construction started this week we can make it.
“We’ve had tremendous support from both senators, from Congressman Braley,” Chapman said. He said state Rep. Tami Wiencek lent her support on a state level and that Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley wrote a letter of support to FEMA.
The help has come from more than FEMA, Chapman said. “The wrestling community has been terrific. Waterloo people have stepped up,” he said, including people like Vern and Donna Nelson, who provided the museum with temporary administrative offices in the River Plaza building downtown.
Word of the museum’s plight also spread to Hollywood, Chapman said. Actor William Baldwin, star of “Backdraft” and other motion pictures, and a former high school and collegiate wrestler, provided an undisclosed but “substantial” monetary gift to museum repairs. Former World Wrestling Federation superstar Bret “The Hitman” Hart gave the museum $1,400 raised from signing autographs when he was here this summer as his father, the late Stu Hart, was inducted in the museum’s George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The Cauliflower Alley Club, a nonprofit organization of boxing, pro wrestling and show business people, donated $2,000, and pro wrestler and promoter Harley Race donated $4,000 along with his wife, B.J.
The international amateur wrestling community donated another $20,000, Chapman said.
Wayne Magee Construction of Cedar Falls will perform the renovation work, Chapman said.
The museum relocated from Newton, reopened here in February 2007 and was renamed for Gable, who wrestled for West High School and Iowa State University, won an Olympic gold medal in 1972 and coached the Iowa Hawkeyes to an all-sport record-tying nine consecutive NCAA national championships.