Willrich R. (Bill) Schroeder, founder and managing director of the sports museum and library originally known as the Helms Athletic Foundation, died Wednesday morning after a lengthy illness. He was 83.
Schroeder was known primarily for building an extensive collection of sports memorabilia--which includes such artifacts as boxing gloves worn by Jack Dempsey, a baseball bat used by Ty Cobb and a uniform worn by Babe Ruth--but he will also be remembered by many for his love of sports and their participants.
"He was a great friend of athletics and athletes," said Bud Dyer, an assistant to Schroeder since 1950 and now an adviser for the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.
"If anybody had a problem, he would be there."
Schroeder's museum, which will be housed at 2141 West Adams Blvd. in Los Angeles upon completion next fall, began as a boyhood obsession.
By the time he was a young man, Schroeder had acquired an extensive collection of sports mementoes and eventually was able to talk Paul F. Helms of the Helms Bakery firm into sponsoring the sports museum, which opened in 1939.
In 1969, Helms died and Schroeder realized he would need new sponsors, a problem he dealt with on several occasions.
In 1970, Citizens Savings came forward and he moved the collection to its office building near Los Angeles International Airport. But that sponsorship ended in 1981. "I hope we can stay in California, and Los Angeles if possible," Schroeder said at the time.
That became a reality when Peter Ueberroth, then president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and his wife, Ginny, came to Schroeder's aid. They became the personal benefactors of the foundation until a new sponsor could be found. Ueberroth called the museum "the best there is."
Most notable among the museum's contents is the Olympic section, containing perhaps the most extensive collection in the world, with displays depicting the Olympics from ancient Greece to Johnny Weissmuller in the 1920s to Bruce Jenner in 1976.
Ueberroth was able to interest First Interstate Bank, which became the sponsor in 1982. Shortly thereafter, the entire operation was given to the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.
"Nobody living or dead has presented more recognition to athletes over half a century," Dyer said.
Schroeder has been involved in presentation of thousands of awards from the high school to professional ranks, going all the way back to '39.
Schroeder is survived by a daughter, Jan Iverson of Whittier. Funeral arrangements are pending.