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Few Visit Ohio State's Halls of Fame : Shrines to the Obscure Fated to Blush Unseen

November 08, 1986|LARRY GREEN | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although their names are not exactly household words, Roy Bernard Kester, Marquis George Eaton and Victor Hermann Stempf share an important distinction: They have been inducted into the Accountant's Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, that doesn't amount to immortality. The Accountant's Hall of Fame is about as well known as, well, the Drainage Hall of Fame, which just happens to be here as well.

There are no signs pointing the way to the Accountant's Hall of Fame. Tour buses do not line up outside. There are no souvenir hawkers, no Accountant's Hall of Fame T-shirts. The Columbus Chamber of Commerce, which promotes local tourism, never heard of the hall. Neither has the Ohio state tourism agency. It is not listed in most travel guides.

"We don't work at getting publicity," says Thomas J. Burns, who single-handedly keeps the hall operating to preserve and enshrine the history of accounting. "I don't spend time trying to get local papers to write about it," adds Burns, an author and internationally known professor of accounting.

Portraits and Bronzes

The Accounting Hall of Fame is not an elaborate display, but it does indeed occupy a hall--the corridor outside Burns' office on the fourth floor of the building that houses Ohio State University's college of business.

Photographs of 20 of the honored accountants and historical notes about them line the wall, in an exhibit that begins just outside Room 441 and reaches to the door of the "Staff Only Men's Room." Bas-relief bronzes of 27 other members are displayed around the corner, between the fire hose and the drinking fountain. Eventually, all the inductees are to be depicted in bronze.

In Canton, Ohio, just two hours away by car, 2,000 to 3,000 visitors daily crowd the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Burns is vague about how many visitors the Accounting Hall of Fame has each year, but--perhaps because there are no Monday Night Accounting matches on national television--it is clearly a number of a different magnitude.

Nevertheless, membership in the Accounting Hall of Fame is considered a major honor in that profession. There are many nominees each year, but only one is chosen. When he testified in the Watergate congressional hearings in 1973, Maurice H. Stans, former U.S. commerce secretary and finance chairman of Richard M. Nixon's reelection committee, mentioned his membership as one of his accomplishments in life.

'Very Prestigious Now'

And Maurice Moonitz, accounting professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, ranks his appointment to the hall as among his highest honors.

"When it started, I and many others were a bit skeptical about it as a promotional kind of thing," Moonitz said. "But then, they've made some excellent choices. It's very prestigious now, although it started modestly."

Burns says the hall is important because it preserves the history of the profession. "It's very easy to lose your history, and this country is just old enough now that it better take better care of its history."

Ohio State University seems to take this notion seriously. It just may be the capital of obscure international halls of fame. It has three. The other two are the Insurance Hall of Fame and the Drainage Hall of Fame, which honors significant contributions to agricultural drainage.

The accountants' display attracts more visitors--many of them retired accountants--than either of the others.

A mere 12 visitors a year are estimated to come to see the Insurance Hall of Fame, where portraits of historical figures in the field of insurance are changed monthly. There are, in fact, some well known people among the 67 famous in insurance. Benjamin Franklin, who is credited with establishing the first fire insurance in the United States, is there. So is Edmond Halley, the English mathematician who, in addition to discovering a comet, also was a pioneer in developing the vital statistics and mortality tables used in insurance.

Not 'Hero Worship'

"Maybe it's obscure because people don't go to see just pictures," said Alan C. Williams, who oversees the insurance exhibit, which hangs in a specially endowed room in a university conference center. "It's not like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where people go because of hero worship."

Williams teaches insurance at the university and would some day like to add a "cyclorama of great disasters" of history that were covered by insurance policies.

Halls of fame reflect "a need for organizations and individuals to justify themselves," said Christopher D. Geist, professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. "And they establish the fact that certain practitioners of an endeavor are famous and need recognition.

"Halls of fame are everywhere, and for the most trivial things."

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