MONROE — Organizers of the “Save the Airplane” grass roots group continue to be on a mission to save the Korean War era F-86L Sabre jet from leaving Monroe.
Like a pilot filing a flight plan for approval from its control tower, the group is developing plans it hopes will get approval from the Village of Monroe at its Aug. 27 meeting.
First, the group will hold a community meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m. at McGarrah’s Stagecoach Inn on Stage Road to discuss their ideas, solicit community ideas and to hopefully gain consensus in preparation for that meeting.
Then, a second meeting will take place on Aug. 25 with representatives of the “Save the Airplane” group and Village Trustee Wayne Chan to talk about what happened at that Aug. 20 gathering. It’s presumably a prelude to the Aug. 27 meeting.
The grass roots group requested to be put on the Aug. 27 meeting agenda so its proposal can be presented to the village board, which has the final say in what will happen with the aircraft.
“There’s a big group of people who feel this plane is important,” said Keri Nygren, one of the group’s organizers. “Our ultimate goal is to save the plane, so all options are open. The biggest supporters seem to be the people who want to keep it for the kids.”
But based on information the group learned this past Tuesday, keeping the jet as a piece of play equipment can’t happen.
Nygren said the group contacted the Air Force last week, as word spread about the village’s plan to return the jet to the military, who loaned it to the village in an agreement dating back to 1963.
On Tuesday, Nygren said, Monroe native Colleen Monaghan - who is also an activist involved in saving the plane - received a return telephone call.
In that call, Nygren said, Monaghan was told that the Air Force received the village’s initial request to take the plane back and the subsequent request to put a hold on that request.
Village officials said because of community outcry, it wants to find a way to keep the jet.
However, Nygren said, during that telephone conversation Monaghan was also reminded that according to the terms of the agreement, the plane can only be used as for display purposes.
‘There’s a long history here.’That means for the last half century, the jet was wrongly used as a play item by generations of Monroe residents and visitors in the Ford Dally Airplane Park.
Village Mayor Jim Purcell confirmed that to The Photo News on Tuesday evening.
“According to the agreement, it’s not supposed to be used as a playground item,” Purcell said. “The agreement says for ‘static display only.’”
Purcell knows that for decades, newspaper reports talked about how the plane was an attraction to bring families into the park. Even a slide was installed so kids could play on it when it first arrived in the village.
“I’m not going to talk about that just yet,” he said. “There’s a long history here, a very long history here. They just did it. I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus. However it happened, it happened. I will make sure all those who come to the (Aug. 27) meeting get the whole history of the plane. This didn’t happen overnight. They need to be educated and they’ll know why this village board did what it did.”
After an Aug. 2 Photo News report appeared discussing the village board’s decision to ask the Air Force to take back the jet, a group of people formed a Facebook group to rally support.
With more than 1,600 Facebook supporters and more than $8,000 raised, organizers hope people will understand the village must adhere to the terms of the 50- year-old agreement.
The group’s initial ideas included three scenarios — - one of them being having the aircraft’s landing gear removed and having it positioned on sand for kids to play on.
Now that’s out.The two other scenarios are to restore the aircraft and have it on public display on a secure base.
The second option is a variant to the first, which is to put the aircraft onto a pedestal showing how it would look in flight.
Either option, Nygren felt, could be viable, although she felt the pedestal option would be costlier as professional assistance would be needed.
‘The village has been .. listening’
Nygren said the group’s leadership was pleased to see the village so responsive to constituent outcries and was hopeful the board would keep an open mind as the Aug. 27 meeting neared.
“It feels good to know they’re supporting us,” said Nygren. “I can understand how they came to the conclusion they did from a business point of view. But I feel the help is out there.”
She added: “The village has been willing to listen since the day they found out about the public reaching out. And hopefully because of that, we’ll be successful. This shows government can be responsive to the people. We get more done working together than being separate.”
Purcell added he looked forward to seeing what the committee, which includes David Roman, a board member of the Monroe Historical Society and the Cornerstone Masonic Historical Society, and a volunteer who has assisted with the plane’s restoration, and Chan come up with.
The Air Force has given the village an Aug. 31 deadline to provide a plan.
“A committee formed, they’re going to be meeting, they’re gathering data and information,” he said. “We’re working on a plan. We do listen to the people if they’re from the village or not village residents. If they have a love for our community, it’s a heartwarming feeling. It’s looking good. We’re getting together on this.”
Follow-upTo learn more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/savetheplane/
To make a donation, visit: http://www.gofundme.com/save-the-plane
Upcoming datesAug. 20: Community meeting at McGarrah’s Stagecoach Inn on Stage Road to talk about ideas and request community input as well as to seek to set parameters about who will handle what. 6 p.m.
Aug. 25: Meeting with Village Trustee Wayne Chan and “Save the Airplane” lead organizers David Roman, Keri Nygren, Colleen Monaghan and Kristina Hinck-Lynn to presumably talk about what will be presented at the Aug. 27 village board meeting.
Aug. 27: Village of Monroe village board meeting, where the grass roots group is expected to make a comprehensive presentation to the board about how to save the airplane from being returned to the Air Force. 7 p.m. Public comment is encouraged.
Aug. 31: Deadline to get a plan to the Air Force, as per Air Force communication to the Village of Monroe.
- Nancy Kriz