MOUNT VERNON — Dennis Bates’ plans for establishing a Museum of Bodybuilding in conjunction with his Pro Fitness Center on Parrott Street are slowly coming together two years after he was hit by inspiration.
In June of 2016, Bates went to the auction at the old Mount Vernon Academy and was surprised at how low the prices were.
“I had no intention of buying anything, I was just curious,” he said.
But he decided to bid and had the winning bid for Hiawatha Hall, a girls’ dorm, cafeteria and classroom building.
“I had no game plan and went home and prayed about it,” he said.
He said God had given him a vision of a museum, but he was unable to work out the financing for the academy building.
However, he said, God also showed him he could set up the museum in an already established location.
His Pro Fitness Center has been in operation for 15 years. Last summer, he received delivery of a large “Hercules” statue for the center — a feature of the museum.
He had hoped to have had a “soft opening” by now, but he’s still working on the details. He has acquired a lot of items for the museum and told the News he will probably have to rotate exhibits.
For example, he has the 1952 Mr. America trophy awarded to Jim Parks, the first medal Ronnie Coleman received for winning the Mr. Olympia title in 1998 — what Bates described as “the highest award in body building.”
After 40 years in body building, Bates has a lot of memorabilia on the industry, including memorabilia of Jack LaLanne, the “godfather” of fitness, and of Joe Weider, the father of modern body building. Weider started publishing fitness magazines about 1936 and famously said, “We must preach body building.”
He plans a “Fallen Olympian Memorial Grove” with a patio or wall where people can pay to have memorial bricks included.
Plus, he intends to incorporate modern technology allowing visitors to hear descriptions of the items on display through their cellphones.
Barbell plates that have the names of famous body builders or strongmen on them are found on the walls. Bates said visitors should think of them the same as baseball bats being sold with the names of famous players.
Eventually, he hopes to build a large, two-story building to house the museum, modeled on the building that housed Weider’s publishing operation in California.
He sees the museum, eventually, as a combination of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and the movie “Night at the Museum.”
Someday, he said, he would like to hold a body building contest at the Memorial Building and he thinks the museum can benefit from the proximity of “The Arnold” the first week of each March in Columbus. It’s a 58-minute drive from Columbus to his club, he noted.
He also said the museum should have wide appeal because if you’ve ever done a push-up or a sit-up or anything to change your body, “you’ve been involved in body building.”