Donnie Pendergraft and her family have donated $1 million to the U.S. Marshals Museum in honor of her late husband, Ross. The money will help build the Ross Pendergraft “Why Marshals?” Theater in the museum planned to be built in downtown Fort Smith on the banks of the Arkansas River.
According to a museum statement, the theater will be an orientation to the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Marshals Museum and will be an 8- to 12-minute video presented on three large screens. The video will explain the history and highlights of the Marshals Service and its connection to Fort Smith.
“We commend the entire Fort Smith community for their enthusiasm and support of the U.S. Marshals Museum,” Neal Pendergraft, son of Mrs. Donnie Pendergraft, said in a statement. “We know this project would be so important to Ross. We hope our gift will encourage others to contribute and make this museum a reality.”
Ross Pendergraft retired from Donrey Media Group (former owner of the Times Record in Fort Smith) in 1994 as the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the national media company. He began his career with Donald Reynolds as an advertising executive in 1948 with the Times Record in Fort Smith. Ross Pendergraft died in May 1998 at the age of 72.
“Words cannot express our gratitude for the Pendergraft family and their generous support of the U.S. Marshals Museum,” Jim Dunn, president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum, said in the statement. “We’re honored to name the ‘Why Marshals?’ Theater in honor of Mr. Ross Pendergraft, and we look forward to carrying on his legacy of giving back to the Fort Smith community.”
The Pendergraft gift is the second family-related gift this year. In March, First Bank Corp. added $500,000 to its previous $500,000 donation toward a goal to raise another $1 million for the museum to honor the late Sam M. Sicard, who was president and CEO of First Bank Corp. The Hall of Honor at the museum will be named for Sicard.
The gift is part of a history of Pendergraft support for Fort Smith organizations. For example, in June 2013 the family donated $1 million to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith for support of the university’s nursing program. Half of the gift funded two professorships of nursing, with the other $500,000 designated for equipment and a reconfiguration of a simulation lab used by nursing students.
MUSEUM MONEY, EASEMENT ISSUE
The 50,000-square-foot museum museum will contain three primary exhibition galleries, a temporary exhibits gallery, a Hall of Honor, and a National Learning Center to offer programs for students, adults, and families. The three galleries are: “Marshals Today,” an overview of the role of U.S. Marshals in contemporary society; “A Changing Nation,” telling key stories of U.S. Marshals history; and “Frontier Marshals,” bringing law to the ever-changing frontier.
The museum reports that it has $26.236 million “committed” – which includes the $1 million Pendergraft family gift – with $22.66 million available after deducting prepaid construction costs and other expenses. The museum’s numbers show it needs $32.869 million to complete the facility, based on a total campaign cost of $55.529 million.
The $55.529 million includes the following items:
• Facility construction, $32.752 million;
• Exhibition costs, $12.3 million;
• Endowment creation, $4 million; and
• Estimated operations funds, $3.5 million.
Museum officials have said they hoped to open the museum by 2017, but an uncertain easement may cause a delay. The property is subject to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation easement for channel alignment. Because it was acquired under a federal Declaration of Taking, the easement was not originally recorded at the county courthouse when the Arkansas River navigation system was built. The museum is working with the Corps on a plan to allow construction on the site. The Corps has advised it may take four to six months to issue a decision.
On Sept. 14, the Robbie Westphal family completed the transfer of 16.3 acres of Fort Smith riverfront property to the museum. The property is nearly 10 acres more than the original riverfront tract that was donated several years ago to better accommodate parking and additional amenities at the museum.
In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the museum.