The Super Bowl-bound Chicago Bears have had a special attachment to Platteville ever since the team held its summer training camp at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus in 1984.
"My office here is a tribute to the Bears," said Kathy Kopp, executive director for the Platteville Chamber of Commerce. "I have Bears memorabilia up and always have."
Although Platteville no longer hosts the Bears every summer, the team has by no means disappeared from the town. Bears spirit is still alive and well, as the Platteville Chamber of Commerce plans a Chicago Bears training camp museum to house a plethora of memorabilia. More than 850 items have been collected by the group.
"A lot of it is very personally Platteville-related," Kopp said.
No plans are official yet, but the Chamber of Commerce hopes to open the museum in a temporary location as soon as this summer. They would use the 900-square-foot visitor's center to display photos, posters, shirts and more until the group can find a permanent home for the exhibit.
The museum will be free but may solicit donations to aid in the procurement of another location.
"I think a Bears training camp museum would be a good idea because it would show Platteville's appreciation for all the Bears organization has done for us here," UW-Platteville junior Brett Hundley said.
Kopp has many ideas for the exhibit, including a photo collage of fans who came to watch the camp. She wants her picture collection to be set up so people could "find [them]selves in Platteville." Her collection contains thousands of photos of players, coaches and fans.
"You don't even have to be a Bears fan per se to appreciate the stuff we have," Kopp said. "To host a training camp on the scale of Platteville required tremendous effort by a lot of people."
During past summer camps, Platteville was flooded with thousands of fans who turned out to watch the team practice.
Hundley said he used to go with his family to watch the Bears practice every summer.
"My favorite part about it was being able to interact with the players after they were done practicing," Hundley said. "They would sign autographs for us and sometimes talk briefly."
The Bears were relocated to Illinois after the state Legislature supported renovations to Soldier Field. Part of the deal included returning the team's training camp to Illinois.
And Kopp describes the team's departure as "a tearful goodbye."
"It was out of both sides' control," she said.
As a parting gift, the Bears donated $250,000 to UW-Platteville. The money funded a computer lab in the student center, now coined the "Bears Den."
Despite an end to the Bears' summer camp, Kopp said she is excited to get the museum plans moving along and create an attraction that will draw people from around the area once again.
"I definitely intend to be talking with the Bears officially to let them know we want to plan a training camp museum," Kopp said. "We have a lot of pride here."