Louisville native Vreeland “Butch” Mosby Jr. was sitting in a Dallas, Texas, Starbucks in 2015 when a teenager tried to sell him a chocolate bar. The teen said it was for a fundraiser to send his football team to a tournament in Florida. Mosby gave the kid a $20 bill and told him to keep the candy. Mosby, an online travel executive, probably would have forgotten all about it had another teen not approached him with the same story while he waited at a car dealership a few days later.
Mosby went home and researched the economics of these candy-selling fundraisers. He took the amount of candy a team would need to sell to cover travel expenses and contrasted that with the estimated time it would probably take the players to achieve their goal. They were working for pennies on the dollar. Mosby already knew that poor kids had to work to participate in the extracurricular activities that their more affluent peers took for granted.
Mosby, 46, grew up off Algonquin Parkway in west Louisville, with a father who worked as a manager at the old Colgate-Palmolive plant across the river in Clarksville and a mother who was an assistant pastor at First Congregational Methodist Church in the Chickasaw neighborhood. (Mosby’s dad died in 2016, and his mom still lives in west Louisville.) Beginning at an early age, Mosby played football, so he participated in his share of fundraisers to help defray the cost of uniforms and tournament fees his parents couldn’t afford.
After his encounters with the teens in Dallas, Mosby posted on Facebook to ask if there were any Louisville football teams with urgent financial needs. Tonya Whittaker, a team mother for the West End Mighty Mites, was the first to respond. Her team needed $500 to travel to a tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mosby reached out to his Facebook network again and asked for donations to help the Mighty Mites. He got the money for Whittaker in less than an hour from just three donors.
The experiment inspired Mosby, who now lives in northern Germany, to start a crowd-funding nonprofit foundation called Sponsor 4 Sports in 2015. The next year, he widened his focus to include all extracurricular and educational opportunities and renamed the nonprofit Sponsor 4 Success, which has raised more than $120,000 and helped about 350 kids. The organization has sent several students to Africa and Europe and purchased college books. Mosby says the majority of the Sponsor 4 Success donors, and the members of its board of directors, are people like him who grew up in Louisville but reside elsewhere. “What I’m trying to do is create a blueprint or concept of how a person like me who grew up in a neighborhood, moved out and became successful in their career can come back and be a part of helping the community revitalize,” he says. “The competition is so high for dollars inside Louisville that we are looking for that guy who lives in Houston, works for BP and still has family in the old neighborhood. This is a vehicle for people like that to give back to the community that gave them a start.”
Mosby played football well enough to make the team at Male Traditional High School and earn an athletic scholarship to Murray State University, where he received a degree in business administration. After college, he pursued his dream of playing professional football. He had unsuccessful tryouts for the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, he ended up in the German Football League from 1995 to 2000.
The GFL originally formed in 1979 as entertainment for American soldiers stationed overseas. Mosby met his Turkish-born wife Yasemin because her sister was a cheerleader for one of his teams. As his football career was winding down, Mosby took a brief, unexpected detour into the music business before joining corporate America. “There were a couple of producers in Germany who were looking for someone from America to rap on their tracks, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he says. “I showed up with my natural U.S. accent and they asked if I could rap. I’d never done it before, but I said I’d try.”
“Bang Bang (2 Shots in the Head),” the song Mosby recorded, was credited to the group Black Attack. It became a hit in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France. “Bang Bang” hit No. 1 in Lebanon, where Mosby performed in front of 50,000 Lebanese fans at one show. Unfortunately, Mosby says he fell victim to one of the oldest tropes in the music business: a bad first contract.
Mosby and his wife moved to America in 2001, only to move back to Germany after a string of high-profile jobs. He worked for the Dallas-based online booking site Hotels.com and later for Expedia.com and Getaroom.com. For the moment, he says he is done with corporate America and plans to focus all his attention on Sponsor 4 Success. He has acquired a 15,000-square-foot lot at 22nd and Cedar streets, where he plans to build affordable housing and two single-family homes. He says Sponsor 4 Success has also invested in a mobile dental business.
In the summer of 2018, Mosby started another nonprofit called the Joe Hammond Project. Both a historical archive and a scholarship fund, the project is named for the late Joe Hammond, who owned the former West End nightclub Joe’s Palm Room. The project started after Mosby tried to buy the Joe’s Palm Room location at 18th and Jefferson streets. Hammond was Catholic, and his widow had donated the building to Bellarmine University. Mosby said the university wanted too much for it, but school officials did let him know that their purview didn’t have anything to do with the business itself. Mosby checked, and the name Joe’s Palm Room was available. He trademarked it but didn’t know what he wanted do with it until he was drinking with his cousin in Louisville one night. “I mentioned Joe’s Palm Room and people just started talking, telling these stories about it. I’m listening, fascinated. I wanted to pull out my phone and start recording them, but I didn’t know how people would feel about it. I woke up the next day and I’m like, ‘We need to collect these stories,’” he says. Whether the name “Joe’s Palm Room” will grace another establishment remains to be seen.
Mosby formed a partnership with the University of Louisville to have history students conduct interviews for the school’s oral history archive. He also started a scholarship fund to benefit Bellarmine in Hammond’s name. Sponsor 4 Success held the first fundraiser for the Joe Hammond Project last year, and an invitation-only event took place at the Frazier History Museum on Oct. 5.
Mosby coordinates all this activity from Germany, where he lives with his wife and three kids. “I don’t think I’ll ever move back to Louisville,” he says. “That’s part of my concept — I want to be able to do this from afar. I will continue to travel back and forth to Louisville. I feel I’m more effective on the outside than I would be on the inside.”
This originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “From Germany With Love.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find us on newsstands, click here.
Photo by Jessica Ebelhar, jessicaebelhar.com