BUNKER HILL – Life has a way of coming full circle. For Rob Blakeslee, that means returning to the base he grew up on when his father served in the military in order to facilitate a project that could draw hundreds to the base each year.
Blakeslee’s father was part of the B-58 Hustler program that ran from 1961 to 1970. “It was the Cold War weapons delivery system,” said Grissom Air Museum’s Tom Kelley. It was a program that cost Blakeslee’s father his life during an incident in McKinney, Kentucky.
Decades later, Blakeslee took out pencil and paper, sketched an idea, and put into motion a grassroots effort that has taken flight. Within the next two to three years, Grissom Air Museum would like to add an $800,000 facility to house its 60-year-old B-58 Hustler and a collection of items related to the program that Kelley dubs “cutting edge for its time, almost dangerous.”
The project was previously announced, but the pandemic halted any efforts that had been made by the museum. Now, Executive Director Tom Jennings is hopeful that plans can get off the ground, again.
Approximately $100,000 has been appropriated by Miami County, but with the shutdown due to COVID, those funds remain out of reach. “It’s been pushed to the back-burner,” Jennings said, adding that residents of Cass, Howard, and Miami counties have already donated more than $160,000.
Kelley said there had been government funding earmarked for the project, but that was pulled to be used elsewhere. “But, we remain hopeful,” he said.
Mayor Chris Martin believes it’s a project that Logansport should be a part of. “I like this plan,” he said as he toured the museum this week. “We, as a city and as a community, should help with this. It’s a regional plan; it’s not just Logansport or just Cass County.”
Jennings would like to have enough funds to start building the structure, and he knows that individuals, including Shamaine Pleczko, are moving forward with ideas to raise the monies.
For Pleczko, the project resonates close to her heart – her father was Capt. Manuel “Rocky” Cervantes, who flew under the B-58 Hustler program, and who died as a result of an explosion when he was aboard one of the planes.
So, with two people who have such close ties to Grissom, Jennings is keeping the faith that his state’s second-best museum (beat out only by Indianapolis’s Children’s Museum) will eventually be home to a facility that will feature a site for family enjoyment. Along with the 26 aircraft that rest just off of U.S. 31 and Indiana 218, this new structure would allow for undercover viewing of the B-58 and there would be an amphitheater with a 15- to 20-foot stage for concerts.
Jennings envisions the museum as a way to bring families together while keeping the past alive. Passing along history is a way to learn and improve upon the future, he said, adding that local groups, such as the Kokomo Visitors Bureau, has already informed him that the plan would be a profitable one. For example, he said, the Kokomo Visitors Bureau anticipates at least $1.5 million coming in from Grissom Air Museum.
“This is something that we all should want to participate in,” said Martin. “We should encourage each other and work to benefit each other.”
Construction could begin as soon as next fall, with an anticipated opening date of fall of 2022. However, Jennings said it could extend to 2023, depending on funding. Meanwhile, Blakeslee and Clark Stranahan of Florida-based C4 Architecture LLC are working to make the structure something to be proud of – something Blakeslee’s father would be proud of.