John Galvin

The Papa of Preservation
Historic Madison Inc. honors
Galvin for his leadership

The retiring director leaves
a legacy of courage, commitment

By Don Ward

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.
John Galvin

John 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 Madison’s precious relics of the past against its constant pressures toward the future.
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 their place.
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 Galvin’s 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 HMI’s 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 HMI’s Annual Dinner, where he was honored by his peers and dignitaries.

The John Galvin File

Maureen & John Galvin

• Age: 65
• 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. Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, Ind., 1959.
• 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 Commerce’s 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. Hutching’s 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, “I’ve 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 today’s 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 wasn’t long before Galvin came rushing down the side aisles snapping.
“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. Joseph’s 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-law’s 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, Staicer

John Galvin accepts the HMI
Dottie Reindollar Award from
his successor John Staicer.

“I wrote a letter to John and told him that he’s been such a conscientious leader, and that anything that goes on in the community that involves the interest of HMI, he’s there, “Ward continued. “He’s 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.
Madison’s hilltop, meanwhile, developed and thrived, but not at the total expense of the downtown. Like small towns all across America, today’s 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 Galvin’s leadership. But while the imposing John Windle ruled with pomp and circumstance, commanding attention whenever he stepped into a room, Galvin’s mild-mannered style is quite the opposite, although no less effective, according to HMI board members.
Galvin’s “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 Madison’s 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 2004.
“Under John Galvin’s leadership, HMI went from being barely able to sustain itself to really becoming an institution in the community,” said Merritt Alcorn, HMI’s 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 wasn’t easy taking the stands he did in establishing the historic overlay. He stayed the course, and it’s been a bitter fight at times.”
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 I’d 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 Windle’s last HMI dinner during which he introduced Galvin as his his successor, saying, “He’s a gentleman in whom I am well pleased.”
Of Galvin’s 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 Galvin’s kindness and paternal leadership qualities. “His taking on the Saddletree project was an enormous effort, and HMI’s 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 it’s challenging to convince people that what we’re trying to do is going to be beneficial to the community, whether it’s 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 Galvin’s staunchest supporters. “He deserves all the awards he received that night,” she said. “I don’t 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. “It’s 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 father’s motto.
“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 it himself.”
The Galvin’s 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 couple’s 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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