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Legacy enshrined in the sky

As the 23rd Annual Amelia Earhart Festival began its second day, visitors marveled at Muriel: In all the world, the only one, the only surviving Lockheed Model 10-E, the same aircraft Earhart flew on her fateful final journey in 1937.

Ameliafest folks numbering in the thousands converged on Atchison this past weekend for this and many other activities. Saturday events began in the presence of Muriel at the Bottorff Family Hangar at Atchison Amelia Earhart Airport. Pilots from around the world flew in to the airport and attended a breakfast with guests and community leaders sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

For Reed Berger, vice president of the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation, it was a day to honor the next generation of fliers. These young pilots are discovering the sky is not, in fact, the limit as veterans like 41-year aerial acrobat Julie Clark — long a highlight contributor to Ameliafest entertainment — are preparing to retire.

“The ultimate goal is teaching kids that there is no limit,” Berger said. “It’s really what they set their mind to do, whatever the profession is, it doesn’t have to be aviation.”

The event had a flight simulator to teach children how to fly a plane. Children also participated in a scavenger hunt around the airport.

“The goal of the foundation is really just education for kids, and STEM education particularly, with an emphasis on females, but not excluding anybody,” Berger said.

Festival features coming museum

Berger said that he regards Muriel as the transition to sharing Earhart’s story to the public.

If everything goes according to schedule, the new Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum — future permanent home for Muriel, currently housed in the Bottorff Family Hangar — should be completed in August. Muriel — which appears ready to soar skyward but has been “pickled” to prevent corrosion and won’t fly again — will be moved to her fulltime home in the new hangar.

According to Berger, the next phase of construction includes bringing up the interior of the museum into an interactive and state-of-the-art exhibit that displays both Earhart’s story and educates the public on aviation.

For Angela Cairo, the fixed-based operator (FBO) manager of the airport, Amelia Earhart’s spirit continues to inspire.

“She encourages a lot of women to achieve and that really speaks to women growing up,” Cairo said. “It’s amazing how many young girls come through that are named Amelia. She still is making an impact and she’s being taught in school.”

The museum hopes to continue Earhart’s legacy.

“She was a trendsetter; she was a pioneer, even in today’s standards,” Berger said. “But you put her back in her era, it was even more so.”

Clark, who is conducting her “farewell tour” as an aerial acrobat, became one of the first women in the 1970s to be hired as a commercial aircraft pilot.

“She (Earhart) was a pioneer, as well as I, was for women flying in the airlines,” Clark said.

Two honorees this year

Leaders who attended the fly-in and breakfast were among those in attendance later on Saturday at the presentation of the 2019 Pioneering Achievement Award at Benedictine College.

While the award, which carries with it a $10,000 investment into the academic scholarship or endowment of the recipient’s choice for the benefit of young women, ordinarily honors a single accomplished woman in aviation and leadership, this year it honored two: Grace McGuire and Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey. Two awards and two investments were given, rather than a sharing arrangement.

McGuire insisted at the presentation and during a follow-up interview that she believes she doesn’t deserve the award. However, if Earhart Morrissey could see her today, McGuire knows that she would have no patience for McGuire’s modesty. Ultimately, she is accepting it on behalf of two beloved friends who are no longer with us: Laidacker “Ladd” Mannan Seaberg and Earhart Morrissey.

Seaberg’s widow, Karen, who serves as chairwoman of the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation, presented the award to McGuire and Amy Kleppner, Earhart Morrissey’s daughter. McGuire spoke on her relationship with the Seabergs and how — as the owner and dedicated restoration mechanic — she resisted Ladd’s dream of acquiring Muriel (the aircraft) before relenting on behalf of the people of Atchison. McGuire knows now that the plane is exactly where she belongs.

“Muriel (Earhart Morrissey) was a lady, she would not say ‘shut up and take (the award),” McGuire said. “But, truly, all I did was rebuild an old aircraft. This really is a moment for Ladd Seaberg and Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey. This award belongs to them. Ladd and Muriel were two of the best.”

McGuire is a pilot, experienced aircraft restoration mechanic and a close companion of the Earhart family. Morrissey, Amelia Earhart’s younger sister, who died in 1998 at the age of 97, was represented by her daughter, Amy Kleppner.

In accepting the award, Kleppner spoke sentimentally on the life of her mother, the “Child of a Lesser God” — a metaphor Kleppner adapted from the famous 1979 Broadway musical — whose legacy is defined by years of national service and advocacy, while she lived as the survivor of a celebrity.

“She and her sister were two very different people,” Kleppner said. “I think that A.E. had the spirit of adventure to a much greater degree. And, they just consciously chose different lives. But my mother had an amazing life; she was an excellent teacher, who really made a difference to many. I think she spent the last couple of decades of her life making a difference.

“A lot of people serve their communities and don’t get recognition, but this award is the latest example of how she has been honored in many ways.”

Birthplace draws interest from many places

Yono Kim meticulously browsed the plaza Saturday morning as he looked over the engraved bricks along a path into the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.

Kim came from Hilo, Hawaii, located on the largest island in the United States along the most southern point of the Hawaiian Islands, he explained. Kim said he traveled thousands of miles from Hilo to Atchison to purchase one of the bricks. His stop at Amelia’s house on Saturday marked his second visit since he arrived in Atchison a few days earlier.

Frank Kim, Yono Kim’s brother, was awarded a bronze star for his military service as an infantryman in the Korean War.

“I am proud of him and I want to honor him,” Kim said, adding that had the engraved brick order in hand before he entered the museum ready to sign his order.

A few minutes later, a group of visitors from St. Louis, Missouri, and their local host, made a stop in Amelia’s birthplace yard to strike a few poses along sided the informational signs to designated the special place.

Dr. Olexsandr “Alex” Mandel, of Ukraine, traveled back to the U.S. and made a stop to take in the Amelia Earhart Festival weekend in Atchison along his way to visit a friend in California. Mandel was present at the Breakfast with the Books event on Saturday.

Mandel, a 2017 Forest of Friendship inductee, is a known Amelia Earhart researcher and the son of a naval officer. He’s been in town on festival weekend twice before. Mandel initially attended the festival in 2004, and then he was present again the same year he was inducted into the Forest.

Some Earhart enthusiasts became acquainted with Mandel’s enthusiasm for Earhart in 2000 after he sent a miniature scale replica of the USS Amelia Earhart, a U.S. navel WWII warship to the birthplace museum as a gift. The actual warship was built during the war, but was scrapped.

Mandel is a U.S. Navy and Russian Navy ship enthusiast. He petitioned U.S. Navy officials to name a ship in honor of Earhart, according to an Atchison Globe news report. On April 6, 2008, the USNS Amelia Earhart was christened in the San Diego Harbor in California.

It serves as a dry cargo ship to deliver supplies to naval ships at sea and for humanitarian purposes. In more recent years, Mandel crafted a replica of the dry cargo ship named in the famed aviatrix’s honor that is a bit larger-scale than the miniature ship.

The large replica was also presented to the birthplace museum, as well as some other Earhart items. Mandel is a physics professor at Odessa University in Ukraine.

Children's authors highlight event

As the mystique about Amelia Earhart lives on, so does her legacy inspiring many to dream big and not give up to achieve one’s goals in life. Jeanine Kiehl Wyatt and Aimee Bissonette are two such women.

Wyatt and Bissonette were the two featured authors present as Amelia Earhart fans gathered from near and far for a meet and greet with two children’s book authors during the Breakfast with the Books event Saturday at Benedictine College.

Wyatt, a Lawrence resident, is an Atchison native educated in Atchison schools has heard and read about Earhart throughout her life. “Meelie’s Christmas,” by J.A. Kiehl, a pen name, was released in June. It is Wyatt’s second book on the topic of Earhart.

Wyatt’s current book is representative of what traditional Christmas celebrations were like for a very young Earhart with her parents, sister and “Grandfather and Grandmother Otis” her maternal grandparents. Wyatt, a former Amelia Earhart Birthplace and Museum trustee and docent, based her latest book on research from her local knowledge as well as oral stories, writings about Amelia and the 19th century Victorian era.

From the coast of Lake Superior in Minnesota to the banks of Amelia Earhart’s hometown in Atchison, came Bissonette. Bissonette was here to talk about the children’s book she wrote “Aim for the Skies” about two women pilots who in 1964 successfully fulfilled Earhart’s dream to fly around the world. Bissonette’s book was released in Sept. 18.

The two women, Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock and Joan Merriam Smith, both inspired by Earhart’s aviation dreams and her accomplishments.

Although unplanned, Mock and Smith seemingly crossed paths as they forged on in their respective endeavors to become the first woman to fly around the world. Bissonette tells their stories in her book.

The women unaware of one another and their common goal each departed in their respective planes and embarked along their designated routes to circumnavigate the globe. Smith traveled the same route as Amelia’s fateful flight, Bissonette said.

Mock managed to complete her special journey first and landed with her claim staked in the history books to become known as the first female pilot to successfully fly around the world.

Wyatt is currently retired from the field of human resource management, and has another Earhart-inspired children’s book in works with more of an appeal for boys, she said. In addition to writing, Wyatt is also a painter. Her first book centered on Earhart’s last visit to Atchison.

Bissonette also has a versatile background that includes occupational therapy, education, writer, lawyer and small business owner.

Both Wyatt and Bissonette are world travelers. The authors told the audience about their experiences they’ve encountered in their writing professions.

Audience members asked questions that ranged from anticipated dates concerning the authors’ next books.