Son of Varsity Club Board Member Plays Key Role in Bringing Indiana Prow to Memorial Stadium
Dec. 9, 2013
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Officially dedicated in September, Memorial Stadium’s USS Indiana prow has become a gameday centerpiece on Football Saturdays. But few people know that the prow may not have made the 2,200-mile journey from California if it weren’t for the perseverance and diligent detective work of Mark Miller, an IU alumnus and son of Varsity Club Board Member Pat Miller and her husband, Mike.
Miller graduated from IU in 1986 and earned his MBA from the Kelley School of Business in 1993. Miller headed west in 2000 and quickly became involved in the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the IU Alumni Association where he was eventually assigned to the task of discovering if it would be possible to bring the prow to Indiana.
“Mark was instrumental in tracking down the owners of the USS Indiana prow and facilitating the donation of this significant artifact,” said Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Fred Glass. “It’s fantastic that the story of the prow involved someone so closely connected with the IU Varsity Club.
“It’s a huge honor to have the prow at Memorial Stadium,” added Glass. “We are so thankful to Mark for his time and energy in bringing it home.”
The USS Indiana (BB-58) was commissioned in April 1942. This 35,000-ton South Dakota class battleship received nine battle stars for its service during World War II in the pacific theater. Formally decommissioned in 1946, its parts were sold for scrap in 1963. Eventually, the prow became a showpiece outside of Spenger’s Fish Grotto, a landmark restaurant in Berkeley, CA, that is known for its many nautical items on display.
In 2012, the prow came to the attention of IU President Michael McRobbie through his wife, Laurie, after alumnus Scott Clarke wrote a letter to the editor of The Herald-Times in Bloomington suggesting IU procure it for Memorial Stadium. At President McRobbie’s direction, Kirk White, IU's assistant vice president for strategic partnerships and military liaison for the Office of the President, and an Afghanistan veteran, contacted the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the IU Alumni Association to help reach out to the restaurant and the Spenger family.
“IU is fortunate to have dedicated alumni in every corner of the world who look for opportunities to give back,” White said. “From my past work at the IU Alumni Association, I figured if I called the local chapter an alumni volunteer could help us with the detective work.”
Bay Area Chapter Board Member Mark Miller was assigned to the task. Mark’s role in bringing the prow home was quickly made more instrumental when he discovered that the Spenger family no longer owned the Fish Grotto.
“In August 2012, I went to Spenger’s to see the prow and to ask about it,” said Miller. “Spenger’s bartender told me the restaurant was now owned by Landry’s Inc., but the family still owned the nautical items.”
Miller than contacted the Landry’s headquarters in Houston, Texas. Due to the volume of requests for nautical items at hundreds of its seafood restaurants, the company was unable to help Miller get in touch with the Spenger family.
Miller then went online to see if he could track down any contact information on the Spenger family.
“My search had only one result,” said Miller. “The result was a clam chowder recipe from the Sacramento Bee. One of the recipes was from Frank Spenger who explained that the recipe was from his family’s seafood restaurant in Berkeley.”
Because the recipe article mentioned Spenger’s hometown, Miller was able to locate Frank’s phone number and get in touch with him directly. Frank Spenger was immediately interested in helping IU acquire the prow, but unfortunately the restaurant’s parking lot, where the prow was located, was in the process of being sold to another company. The Spenger family had to be sure that the new buyer was not interested in the prow before they could move forward with IU.
After several months, Mr. Spenger got back in touch with Miller and indicated that the prow was being held in a family trust and would have to be presented to the family for a vote prior to transferring ownership to Indiana University. Miller then connected with the trust administrator who facilitated the vote and ultimately the donation of the prow by the Spenger family to IU.
“As a local resident, Mark was able to diplomatically connect with the Spenger family and recommend that the prow be a gift to IU,” added White. “He made the successful proposal and set the stage for us to take care of the details.”
By late spring, Indiana University was ready to coordinate the shipping and logistics to bring the prow from California to Indiana – a distance of more than 2,200 miles. After the long journey, the prow was refurbished and repainted. It is now on permanent display along with the ship’s mainmast and two gun mounts, which were given to the University by the Navy in 1966.
“If it hadn’t been for the determination and detective work of Mark Miller – along with Scott Clarke’s letter to the Herald-Times, the personal interest of President McRobbie, and the generosity of the Spenger family – the USS Indiana prow would have never made it home to Memorial Stadium,” added Glass.
For his role in bringing the prow to Bloomington, Miller is very humble. “I am just glad to have helped,” said Miller. “I have had such positive experiences with IU – both while in school and after school. This is just one small way I could give back to something I really enjoy being a part of.”
Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium is named in honor of the sons and daughters of Indiana University who have served in the wars of the republic. The mast, prow and accompanying armament, which are located on the west side of the stadium, stand as a memorial to the sons and daughters of the state of Indiana who have so gallantly served in the armed forces of our nation.
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