Kelch Aviation Museum to take flight next year

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Ashley McCallum
Sunday, June 18, 2017

BRODHEAD -- When asked why he thinks an aviation museum could work in Brodhead, Pat Weeden has a simple answer: It's the only place it could work.

That's because Brodhead is world-renowned for vintage aviation and home to many vintage airplane experts and enthusiasts, said Weeden, executive director of the Kelch Aviation Museum.

The museum board so far has raised $413,000 toward its $1 million goal to build a new museum and education building.

Construction is anticipated to start in late 2018. The original estimate of 2017 was made before the capital campaign launched and was a rough estimate at the time, Weeden said.

Weeden is confident the board will raise the money before the end of next year. He anticipates exceeding the $500,000 mark by the end of this summer.

“We're not going to build this place by having a bake sale,” Weeden said. “Fundraising is all about meeting people, telling the story.”

Weeden spent the winter telling the museum's story to community groups and fellow aviators, hoping to find new donors.

Aviation enthusiasts from around the world come to Brodhead to see the museum's collection of vintage airplanes, and some even stick around, Weeden said.

Board member Mike Williams is one of them. The Atlanta native lives in Brodhead three to four months of the year so he can work on his planes and live near like-minded people.

As an airline pilot in the 1980s, Williams said he flew with many pilots who recognized Brodhead as the “grassroots of flying.”

The new museum will house 13 vintage planes, all of which will be able to fly -- a feature that Weeden said sets Brodhead's operation apart from other aviation museums.

“The exciting thing for us aviation people is to see these things fly again,” Williams said.

"Any number of museums you can go in and see a display of an airplane that'll never fly," he said, "but you come out here, and you can see these things fly again, and it takes you back to the late '20s or early '30s -- sights you wouldn't see unless you actually lived back then.”

As of now, two of those planes are ready to fly and regularly do: a 1928 Stearman C3B and a 1932 Curtis-Wright Travel Air 12W.

Plane restorations and flights happen thanks to volunteer mechanics and pilots, including museum board member Greg Heckman, Weeden said.

Heckman is an instructor of aviation technology at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois.

Weeden hopes to use Heckman's educational experience to build a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum using airplanes and aviation themes.

The curriculum is not set yet, but the museum's design plans include classrooms for students ranging from elementary to high school age, Weeden said.

Using the museum as an educational facility aligns with the vision of Alfred Kelch, the museum's namesake.

“He was an engineer, and he was an inventor,” Weeden said. “He was really adamant about inventing stuff and learning about how things were made, and not just in the old days but how can we improve this, and we want to continue that frame of mind.”

The museum's design also includes a satellite building with a 4,000-square-foot room to rent for meetings, parties, weddings or other events, Weeden said.

In the future, Weeden anticipates hiring part-time staff for the museum and rental space, but he will wait until the museum is open and the board has time to evaluate needs.

Heckman said it was Kelch's wish to keep museum admission free. Weeden plans to grant that wish but allow visitors to make donations if they wish.

The new building will be constructed in place of the existing structure, but Weeden said the old building will not go to waste.

A Portage farmer plans to use scrap wood from the building on his farm, giving it a new life, Weeden said.

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