Archive for Thursday, November 16, 1995


November 16, 1995


Bernie Kish has never sold a refrigerator to an Eskimo, peddled a parka to a musk ox or touted a toothbrush to a toucan.

Just because he hasn't, though, doesn't mean he can't.

You can't win the lottery, no matter how staggering the odds, if you don't enter. And you can't be awarded a dream job, as slim as your chances appear, unless you send in a resume.

Basically, that's how the 56-year-old Kish went from director of ticket operations in the Kansas University athletic department to executive director of the College Football Hall of Fame.

All over the country, the National Football Foundation, which oversees the College Hall of Fame, has scores of chapters, including the Jayhawk chapter, headed by Kish.

When the NFF decided to hire a director for its shrine now under construction in South Bend, Ind., it invited all the chapter directors to apply.

"To be honest," Kish said, "I sent in a resume on a whim."

Not too much later, Kish received word he had been chosen one of six finalists. He flew to New York City for an interview. That was in mid-February.

Soon thereafter, Kish was informed he was one of two finalists and then, a couple of weeks ago, "I heard I was the guy." A week from Monday, he'll take charge of the finishing stages of the museum, now scheduled to open in August.

What is the College Football Hall of Fame? First, let me tell you what it wasn't.

Several years ago, while on a family vacation, I spent many hot, thirsty hours at King's Island, an amusement park in suburban Cincinnati. On the way out, we drove right past the College Football Hall of Fame, too exhausted even to consider stopping for a visit.

The Woodlings weren't the only ones. Thousands, maybe millions, of others drove right past it, too.

"They thought that putting it next to an amusement park would generate a lot of traffic, but it didn't work out," Kish said.

Automobile traffic it generated. Foot traffic it didn't. So the NFF shut the facility down, stuffed everything into boxes and asked for bids. Who wants it? New Orleans did. So did Memphis. The Meadowlands in suburban New York city showed some interest.

Little ol' South Bend won, however, in part because it's the home of Notre Dame, the school synonymous with college football. Tradition talks, of course, but so does money, and South Bend ponied plenty.

In an effort to revitalize its downtown area, South Bend is spending $14.7 million on the museum and constructing it right next door to the city convention center. On the other side is a new Marriott high-rise hotel.

And the man who'll run the museum is a career Army officer -- Kish retired as a full colonel after 29 1/2 years of duty -- who grew up a football fanatic.

How did he wind up in Lawrence?

Several years ago, while assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kish had a blind date with Judy Bernhardt, daughter of the late George Bernhardt, a former Kansas assistant football coach. Later they were married. And when Kish's Army days were over in '92 they settled in Lawrence.

Now they're on the move again -- he'll start his new job a week from Monday -- but they'll be back.

"We're going to keep our home here," Kish said. "We love Lawrence."

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