After six years planning and dreaming, more than a year of sculpting and hours of conversations, Elden Tefft and Merlyn Brown say now is the time to move forward with their plans for a park honoring James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, and other roundball greats.
"We feel like we're in a window of opportunity to really go for it," Brown said.
Brown and Tefft have formed the nonprofit HEALTH foundation. The acronym stands for "Heritage Education through Arts, Literature, Technology and Heroes." Through the organization the pair hopes to begin raising money for a new Naismith Memorial Park.
Tefft, with his son Kim, built a model of the park that they say will stretch across a couple acres and include a garden resembling a basketball court, surrounded by sculptures of people who played a part in creating the sport.
"That's actually a sculpture in itself," Tefft said.
Brown said that through Naismith Memorial Park, the foundation would tell the story of heroes such as Naismith and former Kansas University basketball coach Forrest "Phog" Allen, for whom KU's current basketball venue is named.
"That becomes important to translate our heritage to the younger generation," Brown said.
The foundation's leaders have now begun shopping for land for the park that ideally, they say, would be located along the Kansas Turnpike.
"We have two or three options that we're looking at. We want visibility and we want something in this area," Brown said.
While Brown has been working hard to hammer out details of the fund raising, Tefft has spent the last year finishing up a larger-than-life-size bust of Naismith.
"There was lots of study in it. I learned what Naismith looked like throughout his entire life," Tefft said.
Tefft said creating the model was inherently difficult, because he didn't have any previous works to study.
"Actually, I don't think there are a lot of renditions of him at this point. Most of them are just minor arts and paintings. This is probably the first serious sculpture study that has been made of him," Tefft said.
At 85 years old, Tefft says he will not stop working on the park until it is finished.
"Probably last me the rest of my time," he said.
But the sculptor, who founded Kansas University's sculpture program, said the park's garden would include many sculptures by a variety of artists.
"I don't plan to do all the sculptures in it." Tefft said. "If I have the privilege of doing the primary piece, that would be great for me."
Brown and Tefft say they want to strike while the iron is hot, and they don't think it will get much hotter than it is right now. Brown has high hopes for the men's basketball team this season, and he says the memorial could help with the state's latest tourism campaign.
"We figure when they win the championship this year, we'll be there to present (a sculpture of) the history of basketball memorial." Brown said. "When Wayne (Simien) is drafted No. 1, he can be one of our heroes."