room for presidential personality
Government money allows LBJ Museum to think bigger
SAN MARCOS— In 1997, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum of San Marcos was a nonprofit charter from the state government that had no home and only $50 in a checking account.
It would be nine years before the museum would open to the public, after spending $230,000 to renovate a former theater building on the Hays County Courthouse square in San Marcos.
The museum packs into a small space the story of President Johnson’s early years at what is now Texas State University and his burgeoning political career, and much of the building on Guadalupe Street remains unused. Exhibits are mostly in the front of the building, while a spacious warehouse in the back and an entire second floor lie vacant.
That’s about to change, museum officials say, thanks to two recent allocations from local government in June — $90,000 from the City of San Marcos and $225,000 from Hays County — that will go toward renovation and expansion projects.
The museum also secured a $10,000 grant from the Texas Pioneer Foundation and $5,000 in donations raised through a recent golf tournament.
“I’m extraordinarily excited,” said Ed Mihalkanin, a Texas State political sci-
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Tence professor and member of the museum’s board of directors. “The museum has raised more money in the last 30 days than in our entire history.” here’s no question that even though nearly 40 years have passed since Johnson’s death, Central Texas remains his country
he presidential library on the University of Texas campus, the Texas White House at the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, the student center at Texas State, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Lady Bird Lake in Austin all signify the family’s impact.
The San Marcos museum’s mission is to show that the legacy began there. Johnson grew up in Stonewall and borrowed $75 to enroll at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, where he practiced debate and worked on the student newspaper, then called the College Star, said Bill Cunningham, the museum’s director of operations.
The museum showcases some of Johnson’s early forays into journalism at the paper, now called the University Star. It chronicles his teaching job in Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio, where his experiences teaching poor Hispanic students formed his ideas on eliminating poverty. And it has artifacts from his early runs at politics, including press packets, photos, voting machines and campaign memorabilia.
It also features the desk where he signed the federal Higher Education Act of 1965 at Texas State. The bill effectively created financial assistance for students seeking higher education.
“Johnson always maintained his connection to the university,” Cunningham said. “He was even here a week before he died.”
A current exhibit shows the evolution of the campus newspaper from the early 1900s to the present. It includes documents that show how its editors and reporters — Cunningham included, when he was a student in the 1960s — were caught up in the controversies of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, much of which occurred during Johnson’s tenure.
Cunningham was fired from his job as managing editor of the paper in 1969 for assigning his staff to cover the anti-war movement. Pat Murdock and Bill Cunningham talk on the vacant second floor of the museum, which will be converted into an auditorium that can host events and public meetings. The changes should be finished by next spring. Today, he recognizes it’s somewhat ironic that he helps run a museum dedicated to a president whose time in office was tainted by that war.
“I didn’t really get involved in the LBJ years,” Cunningham said. When he left office, “I really started to wonder about the war. But I never burned my draft card.”
At a Hays County Commissioners Court meeting June 8, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz expressed support for the museum, saying much of Johnson’s legacy began in the area.
“I would like to think back to the Great Society and what President Johnson did for our country,” Narvaiz said. “I’d like to think it was grounded here.”
Members of the court agreed and committed county money to support the museum as well.
“It’s an inspiration for what you can become as a country boy out of Central Texas,” Commissioner Will Conley said.
The museum has ambitious plans but is limited by its current space — about one-third of the building. The museum never had the funds to expand into the entire building.
Hays County owns the building, and the museum has a 50-year lease. It pays $1 a year, said museum board President Pat Murdock.
Mihalkanin, the political science
The LBJ Museum of San Marcos packs a lot of history into a small space, but it soon will have more room for exhibits and storage. Bill Cunningham, the museum’s director of operations, and Pat Murdock, museum board president, look at an exhibit on LBJ’s famous Stetson.
The museum will use more than $ 00,000 in local government funds to renovate its building on the courthouse square.