Where Interstate 25 curls around America the Beautiful Park, Dick Celeste can admire a project more than a decade in the making. A formerly “underutilized” section of downtown Colorado Springs is now an architectural feast for the eyes.

He helped get the ball rolling on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum.

“He’s been a very, very valuable teammate and visionary from the beginning,” said Chris Jenkins, president of Nor’wood Development Group, which contributed the land for the museum.

Celeste retired as president of Colorado College after nearly nine years in 2011. He said he offered his services to newly elected Springs Mayor Steve Bach.

“I wanted to be helpful to him, I told him, even though he hadn’t been my candidate,” Celeste said with a laugh.

One of his ideas was an Olympic museum and hall of fame, an idea that had been rumbling around the city for decades. There wasn’t a signature museum of that kind in the United States.

“The Olympic values are perhaps the most globally unifying values we have,” Celeste said, adding that those values are what drove him as the project progressed.

Celeste’s varied career includes an appointment to director of the Peace Corps by President Jimmy Carter and 31/2 years as ambassador to India. As governor of Ohio from 1983 to 1991, he helped lure a tourism booster to Cleveland. He need only look around the site of his 80th birthday party, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, to see the results.

Celeste said Bach asked him to lead a volunteer effort and put together a working committee. A feasibility study ruled the project attractive.

“It was important that it be a world-class endeavor,” Celeste, now 82, said. “The brand is a world-renowned brand and the experience should be the same.”

Large donations came in from local organizations, which Celeste said “gave the project a lot of credibility.” He became the founding chair of the board of the eventual U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum.

Establishing partnerships, reaching out to potential donors and, Jenkins said, closing out the community presentation for the City for Champions application, Celeste was in the thick of things from the beginning.

“I said no matter how hard you try to imagine what this building and experience will be like, I guarantee you it will exceed your imagination,” was the promise in an early meeting, Celeste said.

“That’s been sort of the challenge we’ve put all the way along the way.”

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