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Also in line for a payday would be the law firm that handled the case — a bonus for Dickerson because it was his employer, Barnes Law Firm, that filed the suit in Clay County in April 2007. In it, McMahon and two other museum members accused Geldersma and three other board members of misappropriating assets, overspending and botching fundraising opportunities.
But in a letter to the museum's members, the law firm made no secret of its priorities.
"Our clients began this litigation with one goal in mind," wrote Ken Barnes, the founding member of Barnes Law Firm. "To improve the financial position of the Airline History Museum."
Several weeks after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs proposed a windfall settlement: Geldersma would admit that he breached his duties as president. He wouldn't be held personally liable, but he would "acknowledge" a judgment of $2.4 million, which the museum could then seek from the insurance company.
By then, Geldersma had already stepped down as president. But he refused to admit that he'd done anything wrong.
A few months later, on October 6, 2007, luxury cars pulled into the downtown airport at around 6 p.m. Travolta arrived around 7, landing in a jet provided by Garmin, a corporate sponsor of an event that had been billed as "Return to First Class."
Travolta entered Hangar No. 9 looking cool and casual, in a dark suit and loosened tie. Flashbulbs and a swarm of women in cocktail dresses tracked his movements. He paid the Connie a visit before finding his place at a roped-off table. After dinner, an anesthesiologist's wife paid $20,000 for a dance with him.
Laurie Ingram watched the evening unfold with a mix of satisfaction and regret. Ingram publishes The Independent, a Kansas City society magazine. She had been asked to co-chair the event and had worked to transform the hangar into a place where Kansas City's party-minded philanthropists could dance, drink and gawk. The price of elegance was staggering: $37,543 for flowers, $46,851 for catering, $111,059 for equipment rental.
"You can't bring in John Travolta and serve coffee and doughnuts and call it a day," Ingram says.
But the luxury devoured the $150 ticket receipts and other donations. More than 85 percent of the $359,201 of the night's revenue went toward expenses, according to a balance sheet obtained by The Pitch. The museum's once-in-a-lifetime fundraising opportunity produced a profit not much larger than the food bill.
The planning committee was made up mostly of society matrons, but the museum did have a representative: Paul Sloan. It wasn't clear to Ingram at the time, but Sloan was using the event as a way to further his campaign against Geldersma. During the planning, Sloan had written a letter to the museum's founders, complaining that potential donors were withholding their money because of Geldersma and his "rubber stamp" board.
The letter was signed by the planning committee. But Ingram claims no memory of it. "I have never seen a letter like that," she says.
After Travolta danced to "Come Fly With Me," Sloan plotted his next move: installing a board that he could control.
One of the individuals Sloan recruited was Bill Skaggs, a Kansas City councilman. The two men had spoken once about the museum getting its rent reduced further at the city-owned airport. (The city first cut the museum a break in 2003.) Skaggs was open to helping the museum: He'd served in the Air Force before becoming an autoworker and, later, a politician. "I just love to hear those ol' engines run," he tells The Pitch.