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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Ian Rolland announces a $1 million challenge grant from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation for the preservation of the Abraham Lincoln collection.

Lincoln group out to raise $1 million

Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Sherry Hardy, a board member of the Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana, applauds the donation announcement Monday at the library.

The Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana have conducted a quiet, intense private fundraising campaign for two years.

Now they’re taking their efforts to the public, prompted by a $1 million challenge grant from a northwest Indiana foundation.

Lincoln collection devotees announced Monday the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation will match up to $1 million to ensure the preservation of the collection, formerly housed at Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Museum.

The drive intends to create an endowment fund for the collection’s ongoing care and make the collection accessible online and through exhibitions and programs. The collection includes signed copies of both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and more than 350 other documents signed by Lincoln, as well as works of fine art, family photographs and artifacts.

After the closure of Fort Wayne’s museum dedicated to the 16th president, the world’s largest private collection of Lincoln memorabilia was awarded in December 2008 to a coalition of Indiana cultural organizations, led by the Indiana State Museum and the Allen County Public Library. The state of Indiana now owns the entire collection, which formerly belonged to Lincoln Financial Foundation, the charitable arm of Lincoln Financial Group.

The December 2008 announcement included a pledge by the Indiana coalition to raise $12 million for the preservation and promotion of the collection. Ian Rolland, former chairman of Lincoln Financial Group, said Monday that private fundraising efforts have been challenging; to date, the campaign has raised $7.75 million.

“I will tell you, it’s not been the easiest of times to raise money,” Rolland said.

Meanwhile, the work has continued with money already raised. About 3,600 books already have been digitized, and work on digitizing photographs soon will begin.

Rolland hopes opening the fundraising to the public will allow those touched by the collection’s presence in Fort Wayne at the museum through the years an opportunity to help.

To be eligible for the matching grant announced Monday, pledges and gifts must be raised by Oct. 26, 2011.

If $1 million is raised and matched, the fundraising will near $10 million – not quite the goal, but “awfully close” to keeping the Lincoln memory alive in Fort Wayne, the former chairman said.

“People feel tied to him and his heritage,” Rolland said. “I think Fort Wayne people almost feel an ownership to it, because of the connections.”