Binger residents announce plans to build Bench museum
By Berry Tramel
Johnny Bench put Binger on the map. Now the Caddo County town hopes its favorite son can keep
Binger on the map.
A group of Binger residents has formed a non-profit organization and announced plans to build a museum for Bench, the Baseball Hall of Fame catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. Bench, who still lives in Cincinnati, will be in Oklahoma City for a May 18 press conference to kick off the campaign for the $1 million museum.
"The last year or so, we've been talking,” said Binger businessman Dean Crain, who grew up with Bench and his brothers. "The small, rural community is in trouble.
"We asked, ‘What can we do to help this community?' We came up with the best resource we have. A Hall of Fame baseball catcher.”
Crain said the proposed building also will honor other major-league players, particularly those from southwestern Oklahoma. But its primary subject will be Bench, who graduated from Binger High School in 1965 and spent 17 seasons, 1967-83, with the Reds.
Binger, located 20 miles north of Anadarko in Caddo County, consolidated with Oney schools in 1991. Binger-Oney has 340 students in pre-kindergarten through high school. Of course, Binger wasn't bulging even in Bench's day; he was valedictorian of a class of 21.
"We're struggling, like all other schools,” said Binger-Oney superintendent Sharon Kniffin, a Binger graduate herself who went to school with Bench.
"One of our main problems, there's no housing available. If people want to move to our community, there's no place to live.
"With the economy like it is, there's no jobs available.”
But Craig and Co. believe the Bench museum could spark life into the town of about 700 residents. Land has been donated at the corners of state highways 152 and 281, a prominent spot in town.
"We have experienced for the past 25, 30, 40 years, people through here wanting to see where he (Bench) lived and where he played ball.”
The Binger group is seeking corporate sponsors for the museum and might hold a benefit banquet in Oklahoma City this summer.
"It's more of an economic-development program,” Crain said. "A save-the-town-of-Binger economic project, because our town is dwindling.”
Crain is four years older than Bench and played ball with Bench and his two older brothers.
"He still reminds me we didn't count his outs when we played two-on-two,” Crain said.