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Korean War museum director meets Spokane Valley critic

The director of a Korean War museum traveled Tuesday from Chicago to Spokane Valley to meet with businessman, veteran and philanthropist Jack Pring, who earlier this month called the nonprofit a scam for having raised $6 million and spent most of those charitable gifts on fundraising instead of a permanent home.

Larry Sassorossi, executive director of the 10-year-old Korean War National Museum, joked about “walking into the lion’s den” when he sat down at a conference table in Pring’s office building.

“Hey, now, just a second,” Pring told his guest, pointing to a bronze table statue of two cowboys shaking hands. “Everybody’s smiling and comfortable here.”

“You’ve come in here as a friend,” Pring said. “You’ve got the courage of your convictions, I respect that. That’s real important. That’s guts.”

Sassorossi said he traveled to Spokane to convince Pring that the Illinois-based Korean War museum charity “isn’t a scam,” and he hopes to have some kind of gift store and video display open to the public by next year in a leased former drugstore in Springfield, Ill. He also acknowledged his trip was an attempt to put out a brush fire involving his nonprofit before it becomes a forest fire.

As they chatted, Pring, 77, and Sassorossi, 74, realized they had something in common: The Valley businessman previously owned car dealerships and proudly calls himself “an old peddler.”

“I’m an old peddler, too,” Sassorossi said. “I used to own a tire business with my brother.” He sold that business and became a professional fundraiser four years ago.

“I’ve been in sales all my life, but I started out in purchasing. That’s how they taught me how to sell,” Sassorossi said.

“You know, coach,” Pring responded, “I think you missed your calling. I think you ought to go down to Appleway and start selling used cars.”

“Ah, come on,” Sassorossi snapped back. “Give me more credit than that.”

Pring, who served during the Korean War, said he was wondering how the nationally recognized nonprofit could have raised $6 million, moved four times and still not have the permanent museum it set out to build a decade ago. He previously has sent donations but recently became alarmed when he learned the group raised $2 million in 2006 and ended that year with less than $150,000 in assets.

“Your balance sheet shows you don’t have much money in the bank,” Pring told his guest.

“I’m painfully aware of that,” the charity’s director said.

Sassorossi said those marketing and overhead expenses were necessary to find the rich potential donors who will be solicited for individual gifts, some with the promise of naming exhibits after them in a yet-to-be built new museum in Springfield.

He offered Pring a position on the group’s national board of directors and suggested he might consider “pledging, say, $25,000 over the next five years.”

“I told you I wouldn’t sit on your board,” Pring said, suggesting he still has concerns about the nonprofit. “I respect you for coming out here. I want to see it succeed, but I’m not going to say anything more than that.”

The nonprofit’s director said he’s seeking a delay in filing the group’s 2007 annual 990 report with the Internal Revenue Service by Monday’s deadline. The nonprofit’s annual financial report and its IRS summary are prepared by an Illinois accounting firm owned by his cousin, Sassorossi said.

“That’s a good question,” he said when asked if doing business with his cousin posed a conflict of interest.

Sassorossi said he’s hopeful that he will shortly get a $250,000 gift from a Chicago businessman to fund a $300,000 exhibit in a yet-to-be leased site in a former drug store in downtown Springfield.

“I respect you for what you’re trying to do,” Pring said after looking at photographs and artist conceptions of the future museum.

“I just pray that we’re doing it as efficiently as possible,” Sassorossi said.

“I appreciate your prayers, but you’ve got to produce. You know what I mean?” Pring said. “You’ve got to have results.”

After a private lunch, Pring said he had Sassorossi sign a pledge. “I told him if he raises $1 million by Aug. 24, I’d make another contribution. Now, we’ll just see.”

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