Papa of Preservation
Historic Madison Inc. honors
Galvin for his leadership
a legacy of courage, commitment
MADISON, Ind. (June 2003) On a quiet, shady back
street in downtown Madison, John and Maureen Galvin live in a lovely
shotgun house a block from the Ohio River.
Galvin with his many awards.
It is here in the back yard of their modest home that John tends to
his beloved flower gardens and manicured lawn. The tranquil setting
only a mere few blocks from the hustle and bustle of everyday life seems
fitting for a man who for the past 22 years has managed to balance Madisons
precious relics of the past against its constant pressures toward the
When John Galvin took over as president of Historic Madison Inc. in
1981, no one said historic preservation was going to be easy. And he
has certainly waged his battles over the years as the defender of what
some would have torn down long ago to erect more modern structures in
But in most cases, John Galvin and his supporters prevailed, having
purchased, saved or restored 16 historic properties in downtown Madison,
making it one of the largest historic districts in the country. Under
Galvins leadership alone, the non-profit, membership organization
of 650 people acquired eight properties and fully restored the Ben Schroeder
Saddletree Factory to operational museum quality.
The late John Windle and his wife, Ann, founded Historic Madison Inc.
in 1960, soon after moving to Madison from their native Chicago. Windle,
a former library administrator, had purchased and restored the Shrewsbury
House on West Second Street, and together the couple made it their mission
to save and restore other historic structures. Prior to his death in
February 1987, Windle recruited Galvin to succeed him at HMIs
leader. Galvin had served on the HMI since 1978. In 1987, he accepted
the dual role of president and executive director.
Mrs. Windle likes to embarrass me by telling people that John
Windle hand-picked me for this job, Galvin said only
a few days after having been presented numerous awards at HMIs
Annual Dinner, where he was honored by his peers and dignitaries.
John Galvin File
Born: Sept. 10, 1937, Paducah, Ky.
Married: Maureen (Finneran) of Hope, Ind., in August 1960.
Children: Mike, 42; Sheila, 38; Dan, 36; Megan, 34.
Education: St. Josephs College, Rensselaer, Ind.,
Military Service: U.S. Army, six months active duty.
Professional: Moved to Madison in May 1960 to manage the
Ohio Theatre for his father-in-law. He purchased the theater in
1963 and operated it until 1994, when he sold it. He also owned
and operated the Skyline Drive-In on Clifty Drive from 1968-92.
President of the Madison Business and Professional Association
for two separate two-year terms. Received the Madison Area Chamber
of Commerces Community Service Award in 1985 and the prestigious
Sagamore of the Wabash in 2002.
Nonprofit Service: Tapped by Historic Madison Inc. founder
John Windle in 1981 to take over as president of the historic
preservation group. Served as HMI president and excutive director
until his retirement on April 2, 2003.
HMI properties acquired under his tenure as president:
Francis Costigan House, St. Michael the Archangel Church, African
Methodist Episcopal Church, Elm Street Carriage House and Stable,
a gallery next door to the John T. Windle Auditorium, and the
Dr. Hutchings Annex building.
Galvin recalls first meeting the Windles in 1964. It
was really great to meet the Windles, Galvin said. I was
fascinated by them.
Before that time, Galvin had never thought of himself as a preservationist,
but admitted that with regard to civic organizations, Ive
always been a joiner, so I guess it fit with my personality to get involved.
Galvin said he admired John Windle but was surprised when the HMI founder
asked him to fill his shoes. I guess he saw something in me that
he liked from my work on Main Street with those merchant organizations.
He felt I could carry the torch that he lit back in 1960, and I guess
he was right.
Many of todays adult residents in Kentuckiana recall the now 65-year-old
Galvin as the finger-snapping disciplinarian of the darkened aisles
of the Ohio Theatre, a business he owned and operated from 1960-94.
If patrons talked too loudly or put their feet up on the next row of
seats, it wasnt long before Galvin came rushing down the side
When the kids came into my theater, they were going to be disciplined,
said Galvin, who catered to children, teens and families and gave away
bicycles on Thursday mornings each summer. Local companies also sponsored
free Saturday morning movies and free popcorn for families.
John Galvin grew up in an Irish family in Paducah, Ky., and attended
St. Josephs College in Rensselaer, Ind. He met his future wife
during the social mixers the school often had with St. Mary of the Woods
College in Terre Haute, Ind. Maureen grew up in Hope, Ind., and her
father owned a large movie theater chain, Syndicated Theaters Inc.,
based in Franklin, Ind., that owned the Ohio Theatre and other theaters
in 12 states.
Galvin and his future wife moved to Madison in May 1960 and married
in August that year, when John took over as manager of his father-in-laws
theater. Galvin bought the theater in 1963 and tended to its health
and livelihood in the same fashion he has tended to his gardens
with dignity and discipline. In some cases, he would even call the parents
of his young patrons if he thought they were trying to buy tickets for
unappropriately rated movies.
When he was running the theater, he was such a watch dog for our
kids, recalled Sue Ward, who moved to Madison with her husband,
Don, around the same time as the Galvins. She is a longtime HMI board
members and docent.
One day John called me to tell me my son was trying to see a PG-rated
movie and if it was OK to let him in, Ward said. I appreciated
him calling me on that occasion. And he transferred that same paternal
feeling toward Madison (as HMI president).
Galvin accepts the HMI
Dottie Reindollar Award from
his successor John Staicer.
I wrote a letter to John and told him that hes
been such a conscientious leader, and that anything that goes on in
the community that involves the interest of HMI, hes there, Ward
continued. Hes got such a love for Madison and is constantly
looking out for its welfare. John Windle is probably spinning in his
grave with all the things John Galvin has accomplished.
In 1968, the Galvins bought Skyline Drive-In on Clifty Drive on the
Madison hilltop. For the next decade, the two theater operations entertained
thousands of southern Indiana and nearby Kentucky residents, young and
old. At the HMI dinners, several speakers recalled taking their first
dates to Skyline Drive-In or being disciplined by Galvin in the darkness
of the Ohio Theatre. The Galvins sold the Ohio Theatre in 1978 and in
1992 closed Skyline Drive-In.
Galvin also became was something of an innovator in the mid 1970s when
the downtown business district was being threatened by new development
taking place on Clifty Drive on the Madison hilltop. Many downtown business
owners were packing up and moving to the hilltop; others decided to
ride out the sudden exodus.
Galvin, meanwhile, rallied his fellow downtown business owners to join
the Madison Business and Professional Association, which Galvin headed
for two separate two-year terms. Galvin is credited with forging the
organization into a powerful merchant group at the time through his
gentle persuasion management style. To help counter the
multiplex cinemas opening at the time, Galvin in 1978 opened a second
theater upstairs at the Ohio Theatre.
Madisons hilltop, meanwhile, developed and thrived, but not at
the total expense of the downtown. Like small towns all across America,
todays downtown business district in Madison must contend with
Wal-Mart and other large retailers to stay alive, but its stores remain
viable and current in their own unique ways. And those businesses that
did not move to the hilltop are now part of the vibrant tourism that
was generated, in part, because of the successful historic preservation
efforts of HMI over the past 33 years.
Much of that success is credited to Galvins leadership. But while
the imposing John Windle ruled with pomp and circumstance, commanding
attention whenever he stepped into a room, Galvins mild-mannered
style is quite the opposite, although no less effective, according to
HMI board members.
Galvins gentle persuasion and behind-the-scenes leadership
has resulted in growing membership, more properties under HMI ownership
and a respect for the organization that has transcended to state and
national levels in historic preservation. During his tenure, HMI listed
the Shrewsbury-Windle House as a National Historic Landmark, created
the Community Development Fund Grant Program, and led the effort to
establish Madisons historic district (city) ordinance. In fact,
HMI is now working toward obtaining yet another level of national prominence
by attempting to become a National Historic Landmarks District, putting
it on par with such historic cities as Savannah, Ga., Charlestown, S.C.,
and New Orleans. Officials hope to achieve their goal sometime in late
Under John Galvins leadership, HMI went from being barely
able to sustain itself to really becoming an institution in the community,
said Merritt Alcorn, HMIs board chairman and a board member since
1976. Today, HMI enjoys stature nationally as a preservation group.
John has led HMI with integrity, competency and, frankly, courage. Sometimes,
it wasnt easy taking the stands he did in establishing the historic
overlay. He stayed the course, and its been a bitter fight at
E. Perin Scott, 84, another longtime HMI board member, said of Galvin,
He was a prudent leader from the start. He was a good manager
of money and Id see him all over town making sure his projects
were being done right. He is very modest and quiet, but he gets his
point across very professionally and amicably.
Scott said the best comment he ever heard about Galvin was made by John
Windle himself at Windles last HMI dinner during which he introduced
Galvin as his his successor, saying, Hes a gentleman in
whom I am well pleased.
Of Galvins numerous awards presented at the May dinner, Scott
said, None of it was too much, and I told him that. I admire him
for his accomplishments.
Jon C. Smith, director of the historic preservation and archaeology
division of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, called Galvin
the papa of historic preservation in Madison, citing Galvins
kindness and paternal leadership qualities. His taking on the
Saddletree project was an enormous effort, and HMIs decision to
go for National Historic Landmark District status are the legacies John
Galvin will be remembered for, and rightly so.
Galvin humbly credits many others in the organization, as well as those
cooperating city, county and state officials, for making HMI successful
in its preservation efforts over the years. Whether its creating
new legislation or establishing a historic district, it takes the support
of many, Galvin said. Preservation is controversial, and
it will always be a challenge. Some are for it and some are against
it, for various reasons. And its challenging to convince people
that what were trying to do is going to be beneficial to the community,
whether its increasing property values or creating an active and
viable commercial district.
Through its lobbying efforts, HMI succeeded in getting the city to pass
its Historic District Ordinance in 1982, which created certain restrictions
on new construction or changes to existing structures in downtown Madison.
Although a city ordinance, many confused residents still call the HMI
office today seeking information about what is allowed under the law.
But, as Galvin explains, HMI has no legal standing, but with the
ordinance in place, we have a tool to see that the right thing is done
(with regard to saving and maintaining historic properties).
Maureen Galvin raised four children during those early years in Madison.
She did some docenting at the HMI properties in the early years and
has been and remains one of John Galvins staunchest
supporters. He deserves all the awards he received that night,
she said. I dont think anyone would argue with that.
Maureen said the most touching moments of the evening came when her
oldest son, Mike, spoke on behalf of his three siblings about the qualities
his parents instilled in him while growing up. Its easy
to give to your community when you recognize that the community always
gives so much more back to you, Mike Galvin, 42, recalled as his
I just wanted to run up there and hug him, said Maureen
Galvin, 65, who prior to the evening was unaware her son was scheduled
to speak. To hear all those things his father and mother were
doing while he was growing up, he must have noticed and he acted on
The Galvins leave not only a legacy with HMI but a fund in their
name. The John and Maureen Galvin Fund was announced at the May dinner
to recognize the couples contributions.
In retirement, the Galvins have no grand plans to travel the world or
take a cruise or move south into a beachside condo. For now, they are
content to cultivate their quiet gardens in downtown Madison and enjoy
visits by their four children and four grandchildren.
We might move around a bit and visit friends, but we have no plans
on going anywhere special, Galvin said.
He said he is proud of his accomplishments but will still be around
from time to time to help out when he can. He and John Staicer, 42,
have worked together for nearly a decade, and Galvin says HMI is in
capable hands with Staicer at the helm as executive director.
Galvin will remain as HMI president and serve on its board. He leaves
the organization with six employees, a $360,000 budget and assets of
more than $7 million.
Staicer moved to Madison a decade ago to head the restoration of the
Saddletree Factory and has become a more active administrator at HMI
in recent years.
And I hand-picked him! Galvin said.
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