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Column: Want to keep aviation Hall in Duluth? Plug it in

Anyone know where to put 150 famous aviators? For the past few years, they've had a home at Duluth International Airport, most recently in the corridor between the Allegiant Air ticket counter and the rental car pickup. Members of the Minnesota A...

Aviation hall of fame
The Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame can be viewed -- for now -- at the Duluth International Airport in the Allegiant end of the terminal. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Anyone know where to put 150 famous aviators?

For the past few years, they've had a home at Duluth International Airport, most recently in the corridor between the Allegiant Air ticket counter and the rental car pickup. Members of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, they're enshrined on plaques proudly displaying their pictures and exploits.

But with the airport's renovation, they've got to go.

"We'd love to continue to accommodate it, but space is the issue," said Brian Ryks, the airport's executive director. "We just do not have the wall space in the new terminal to support the size of the display. And each year it grows by about five or six plaques."

The exhibit, which migrated to Duluth from Owatonna 15 years ago at the urging of Hall of Fame board member Al Grady of Hermantown, faces its eviction next year when the new terminal unveils with fewer walls, more open space and more glass -- nothing you'd want to hang wood plaques on. And though there is space on the top floor near the administrative offices or at the gates, the idea is for people to see it.

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"We didn't want to put it in an area where you had to go through security," Grady said. "One of the other places we talked about was the main terminal in Minneapolis, but again, you'd have to go through security."

Last week, the Albert Lea City Council made a pitch to bring the hall to its municipal airport. Grady would like to see it stay in Duluth. But before anyone gets into a dogfight over it, what's in the exhibit, anyway?

"It recognizes Minnesotans involved in aviation in some fashion," Tom Schellinger, chairman of the hall's board, said from metro suburban Apple Valley. "It could be an airport manager, a pilot, an instructor. It could be the young man from Duluth who worked for Cirrus as a test pilot and was killed in an accident."

That would be Maj. Scott D.

Anderson, whose plaque says "lived the life of an adventurer, building a two-man submarine; making a marathon canoe trip from Duluth to Hudson Bay and writing a book about it," as well as playing the sax in jazz bands and professional football in Austria

before returning to Duluth to fly F-16s for the 179th Fighter Squadron.

The test pilot for the first production model Cirrus SR20, he died in a crash in March 1999.

R.I.P., Scott.

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Another inductee who made the ultimate sacrifice to aviation was Florence G. Klingensmith. Born in Moorhead in 1906, she managed the Fargo airport and led a women's barnstorming group, challenging male fliers and setting looping records in 1931 before dying in a competition two years later.

Then there's Col. Kenneth O. Wofford, an Oklahoma native who worked for the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Office after retiring from the Army Air Force's famed 99th Fighter Squadron, also know as the Tuskegee Airmen.

That's the same squadron that counted 68 World War II missions flown by Joe Gomer of Duluth who -- is not an inductee?

"Joe Gomer is in the Iowa Hall of Fame," Grady said, adding, "That certainly wouldn't exclude him from being nominated in Minnesota. He's lived in Duluth since after the war."

So expect a nomination for Gomer. But before his plaque goes up in Albert Lea, isn't there some way to keep the hall here in Duluth?

Since the problem is space and fitting in with the new décor, what if the honorees were featured on touch-screen electronic displays, I asked Ryks.

"Wouldn't that be cool?" he responded. "That would be neat. We'd certainly be willing to consider it."

An Internet search called up Interactive Touchscreen Solutions of Maryland. Saleswoman Natalie Bobila got back to me immediately with a starting price of $6,000 (for one. You'd probably need two.)

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"No added expense each year as you add more bios," she said. "Touchscreen digital signage to search a database of honorees, view presentations and look up other information at one's own pace would be well received."

Someone who once would have had no problem finding 12 grand is former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, himself a sure-fire first-ballot inductee in the hall. His successor is former military and airline pilot Chip Cravaack who, while not a fan of public funding for such endeavors, could rally private support to bring the hall into the 21st century and keep it in Duluth and the 8th Congressional District.

Unless we'd rather see it in Albert Lea.

Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at rwashington@duluthnews.com .

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