TROY — It was a hero’s welcome on Tuesday at Troy’s Pioneers of Aviation Statue Pavilion dedication ceremony as the community celebrated two past and one present member of Troy’s rich aviation history.
The sculpture garden, located at 134 N. Market St., Troy, includes statues of National Aviation Hall of Fame inductees, including the late Clayton Brukner and Robert Hartzell and NASA astronaut Nancy Currie-Gregg Ph.D.
The sculptures were designed by artist Mike Major of Urbana.
Local attorney and Acorn Society member Bill McGraw said the site is dedicated “for people who lived lives of consequence.”
“They were significant in their areas of endeavor. We dedicate these statues to the citizens of Troy, the Dayton area, the state of Ohio, our country and our acknowledgment to Neil Armstrong ‘To all Mankind,’” McGraw said. “We not only honor the achievements of these Troy Trojans, but we also dedicate this pavilion to the inspiration of future generations, for achieving and persevering in their chosen endeavors.”
McGraw introduced 1976 graduate of Troy High School, former NASA astronaut Nancy Currie-Gregg Ph.D who attended the ceremony, along with her husband Tim and granddaughter Coco.
“I’ve been so incredibly blessed in my career to have this incredible support by not only the Troy community, but the Ohio State community, but also my family and friends,” Currie-Gregg shared, thanking her family. “Throughout my entire life, they’ve supported me, supported my goals. My mom and dad — for those of you who knew him — my dad would have been front and center telling everyone who I was before you ever had a chance to sit down. My dad was my biggest fan … my dad was also the inspiration for my aviation career.”
Currie-Gregg’s placement in the sculpture garden looks towards Troy High School, but as she spoke, she also noted it looks on towards her parents’ and brother’s final resting place in Riverside Cemetery as well.
“It’s very fitting that I’m looking at Troy High School and it’s especially fitting that Mr. Jim Beisner is here,” she said.
Currie-Gregg shared how Bisner attended her first space shuttle mission launch, which Beisner and two other Troy High School teachers attended with her family and friends.
She also reflected upon how she grew up in an era “when little girls didn’t grow up to become astronauts, or army aviators or military aviators.”
“My dad, my teachers, no one ever looked at me and said, ‘You can’t do that.’ So I grew up with this dream of becoming a military aviator. My dad used to take me to airfields on the weekend and watch airplanes land. When I was in high school all the rules started to change. They started to accept women into the military as aviators,” she shared, noting a historic moment for her was when the U.S. Army dropped the height requirement and she was the first woman to be accepted under the new requirements. “I was exceptionally blessed to realize my dream.”
She served in the U.S. Army for 22 years and joined NASA in 1987 as an astronaut. She flew four space missions from 1993-2002, twice on Endeavor, Discovery and Columbia space shuttle missions. She completed 262 hours in space and orbited the Earth 165 times, flying 3.9 million miles in space. She recently retired from NASA and is now a professor of industrial engineering at Texas A&M.
Currie-Gregg shared advice she gives to children to pursue their passion and dreams.
“Pursue something you are passionate about. If you’re passionate about it, you are going to give it your all, you’ll give 100 percent into it. And if on that journey, for whatever reason, life changes and you never exceed that ultimate goal, you’ll still have a successful and enjoyable career,” she said.
Brukner’s statue looks over Judd Boak’s flying field, now Troy Memorial Stadium, which was once the site of the final assembly and testing of Clayton Brukner’s legendary WACO aircraft.
Brukner’s statue will watch over that same field where plant No. 4 was located before the plant was moved to Peters Road in 1931.
Gretchen Hawk, executor director of the WACO Historical Society, dedicated Brukner’s statue on his behalf.
“We can only assume Clayton would have been very pleased with not only the statue, but what is happening out at WACO as well,” Hawk said. “He left us a wonderful legacy to build upon.”
“Sunny,” a vintage WACO aircraft, conducted a fly-over as part of the day’s ceremony.
Approximately six generations of the Hartzell family attended the statue dedication ceremony, which celebrate’s Robert N. Hartzell’s contributions to aviation history in the propeller industry.
Hartzell’s great-grandson Robert Kaebnick, COO of Hartzell, dedicated the late Robert Hartzell’s statue on behalf of the family.
Kaebnick recited his grandfather’s speech given on Robert N. Hartzell’s behalf at his National Aviation Hall of Fame induction in 2015. It recounted how Hartzell took his neighbor, Orville Wright’s advice, to design propellers using his access to his own father’s hardwoods business in the dawn of aviation.
Bruns Construction provided the site work for the project. McGraw shared how the Acorn Society had worked on fundraising for the statue park since 2014.
This edition corrects the spelling of Jim Beisner. The Troy Daily News regrets this error.