NEW ORLEANS (March 24, 2015) — The National WWII Museum today received an individual gift of $20 million from longtime advocate and former Board Chairman Boysie Bollinger. Ranking among the top donations in the country to a non-profit organization or Museum, this is the largest private gift ever received by the Museum.
The $20 million donation will be used to add an iconic architectural piece to the Museum’s New Orleans campus, the Canopy of Peace, which Bollinger calls “the finishing touch” to the Museum’s expansion. The Canopy will symbolize the hope and promise unleashed by the end of World War II hostilities. Commanding attention on the New Orleans skyline, the 150-foot-tall structure will also unify the Museum’s diverse campus in the enduring spirit of the wartime slogan, “We’re all in this together!”
“I’ve always said that we are going to build a world-class museum,” said Bollinger. “Stephen Ambrose convinced me that this Museum was going to last for generations. My attitude is that we are going to take a little longer (to complete the campus) but we are going to do it right, and we’re going to build it to last.”
Boysie Bollinger first became involved with The National D-Day Museum twenty years ago, and remains tireless in helping to develop the six-acre campus of the Congressionally-designated institution. In his work on the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Bollinger has lobbied government officials, potential donors, friends, and anyone who will listen to support the Museum, and today, he leads by example with his own donation.
But Bollinger, who cites humility as the quality he most admires in World War II veterans, is not looking to hold onto the top spot for long. “I would hope somebody loves it a little bit more than me—or a lot more than me—and wants to become the largest donor. I think it’s going to raise the bar. I don’t need to stay there. I’d very much appreciate it if somebody beats me.”
A portion of the historic donation will also go into the Museum endowment, a step Bollinger noted as significant to the institution’s future. The endowment guarantees the Museum will always have a steady source of funds to support the growing campus. Bollinger, a key player in the Museum’s leadership through critical phases, has always understood the importance of expanding the institution’s campus and its reach, and his donation will guarantee the Museum can continue on this essential path.
Additionally, a reference to Bollinger’s name will go on the Museum’s existing Stage Door Canteen, a 1940s-style entertainment space that serves as a living exhibit for music of the war era. The space will now be called BB’s Stage Door Canteen. “BB is what my grandkids call me,” said Bollinger. Noting that he doesn’t want his name in lights, Bollinger adds, “Some people will never know that’s me, but those who are important to me will know. It’s very personal.”
Bollinger’s remarkable career in shipbuilding and his bold reputation as an entrepreneur often prompt comparisons to a famous WWII-era boat builder, Andrew Jackson Higgins. Higgins Industries in New Orleans took the lead in producing thousands of the flat-bottomed landing craft that made it possible for Allied forces to successfully invade enemy-held beaches in Europe, North Africa and across the Pacific. As Dwight Eisenhower once told historian Stephen Ambrose, who would become the Museum’s founder, Higgins was “the man who won the war.” It is because of Higgins that the Museum is located in New Orleans, and it is largely because of Bollinger that it became a reality. Now he will put his name on a finishing piece of the campus.
“I am inspired by the extraordinary generosity of Boysie Bollinger,” said Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, Museum president and CEO. “Boysie’s passion has grown deeper since his early involvement with the Museum. He truly understands the importance of sharing the story of America’s sacrifice for freedom, and he’s helping to ensure the Museum continues to evolve on a national level. His determination is exhilarating.”
When first approached about getting involved with the Museum, Bollinger was told “It won’t take you any time and it won’t cost you any money.” All these years later, Boysie knows better. He believes his work with the Museum will be central to his life’s legacy. “I’ve got a lot of time invested in this Museum, going back 20 years, and it’s time we finish it,” said Bollinger. “And I hope this is the gift that helps make that happen.”
Featuring a top piece stretching 448 feet by 126 feet, the Canopy of Peace is scheduled for completion in 2017. In December 2015, the Museum will launch Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries, which will complete the newly constructed Campaigns of Courage pavilion. The exhibition hall will trace the path that led from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay, examining the logistical challenges, fierce battles and range of extreme conditions that confronted troops in this vast theater of war. Throughout the galleries, artifacts will connect visitors to the intense struggle, including uniforms, personal effects and an authentic restored P-40 Warhawk—bearing the distinctive markings of the Flying Tigers. A new exhibit on the Merchant Marine is also scheduled for completion in December.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America's National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage, and sacrifice of the men and women who served on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org. Follow us on Twitter at WWIImuseum or on Facebook.