11/23/13 12:00pm
11/23/2013 12:00 PM
Grumman retiree Ted Kole is hoping to build a visitors center at Grumman Memorial Park in the likeness of the old aircraft hangar. Pictured is the hangar that once stood in Bethpage.

COURTESY PHOTO | Grumman retiree Ted Kole is hoping to build a visitors center at Grumman Memorial Park in the likeness of the old aircraft hangar. Pictured is the hangar that once stood in Bethpage.

Many people who worked for Grumman Aerospace Corporation can tell you about their undying sense of pride in the company and the contributions its employees made to American aviation.

The Grumman Memorial Park at the former Grumman Aerospace Flight Test Facility property on Route 25 in Calverton is a symbol of that pride. It was created to commemorate advances in aviation and aerospace that took place on Long Island throughout the 20th century. The park opened in 2000 thanks to the volunteer efforts of a nonprofit group called East End Aircraft.

Now, 13 years later, Northrop Grumman retiree Ted Kole is working to build on the initial efforts of those volunteers. Mr. Kole, who retired last year, is hoping to raise roughly $300,000 to expand the park.

Under his preliminary plan, the Grumman Memorial Park would feature a playground, bathrooms and covered picnic area — similar to the amenities at Brookhaven Town’s Moriches Athletic Complex — and a visitor information center designed to resemble the old Grumman airplane hangar.

Ted Kole poses with the merchandise he designs and sells to commemorate the corporation.

COURTESY PHOTO | Ted Kole poses with the merchandise he designs and sells to commemorate the corporation.

Additionally, Mr. Kole hopes to use the existing track that circles the park to host annual 5K races in partnership with Riverhead Town and area businesses as fundraisers for upkeep of the park.

“This expansion would attract more tourist attention and encourage more use of the park by camps, schools and the community,” Mr. Kole said.

A former media services graphic designer at Northrop Grumman, Mr. Kole was granted a license agreement by the military in 2010 to sell T-shirts, cups, hats and other items bearing the old Grumman logo. The profi t has traditionally gone to fund the Grumman Retirees Club, but Mr. Kole now plans to have a portion of those sales go toward the construction of the park.

Without community support, however, his dream may never take flight.

He is now in the process of applying for grant funding for the project through the state offi ce of Parks, Recreation and Historic Restoration. If approved, the state would provide half the funding for the estimated $600,000 expansion. But to move forward, Mr. Kole must fi nd a nonprofi t organization to spearhead the project. He said he has been in talks with the Cradle of Aviation Museum of Garden City to help with fundraising effort, but they have not committed to the project. Just a few weeks ago, six volunteers from the museum, many of them Grumman retirees, donated their time to help restore the aging F-14 and A-6E fi ghter jets on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton.

“I’m not sure the Cradle would be in a position to spearhead the effort,” said Andrew Parton, director of the museum. “Fundraising in general is a very diffi cult process and the museum has its own diffi culties in raising the funds needed to operate. We’d be happy to contribute time and some people resources as well as participating in discussions, but a major fundraising role would be hard for us to manage.”

Mr. Kole also needs approval from the Town of Riverhead for the project to move forward. He has been speaking with Riverhead deputy supervisor Jill Lewis, but like the museum, the town said that while it appreciates Mr. Kole’s effort, it couldn’t contribute funding for the project.

Supervisor Sean Walter echoed that sentiment this week.

“It sounds like a great idea if he got the grant money,” he said. “But the town isn’t in a position to match the money or contribute fi nancially.”

Mr. Kole is still optimistic that the community and fellow retirees will rally to help build the facilities.

“The Town of Riverhead does not have the funding to renovate the park and I do not have the ability to spearhead a project like this,” Mr. Kole said. “But I think community or business leaders might be interested in helping.”

For Mr. Kole, there is a more personal connection to the project than his own employment at the company. In the 1940s, his grandfather, Chester Kolodynski, helped build the Grumman plant in Bethpage.

“This is a great way to carry on the legacy of Grumman,” Mr. Kole said. “It wasn’t only my career; you ask anyone that has ever worked there and they will tell you it was great.”

cmurray@timesreview.com

COURTESY PHOTO | Changes Ted Kole hopes to implement at Grumman Memorial Park.

COURTESY PHOTO | Changes Ted Kole hopes to implement at Grumman Memorial Park.

10/25/13 3:19pm
10/25/2013 3:19 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Volunteer Paul Dooling, of Farmingdale, power washes the A-6E.

Restoration of the F-14 and A-6E fighter jets on loan from the U.S. Navy and on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton got under way Friday.

Six volunteers — many of them Grumman retirees — from Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City donated their time Friday morning to perform “spot repairs,” by power-washing and scraping away and chipping paint from the airplanes.

Friday’s maintenance efforts focused on winterizing the planes, Cradle of Aviation Museum executive director Andrew Parton said.

The planes will be painted for the first time since 2007 next spring, he said.

“It feels good to preserve this part of Long Island’s history,” Mr. Parton said. “We’re happy to do it.”

The town teamed up with the museum to make the proper repairs after Calverton civic members and a News-Review article in May highlighted the planes’ deteriorating condition.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday’s clean up was just the start of the restoration, saying there would be a long-term partnership with the museum to ensure the planes remained the best possible condition.

He said the town is working out the details of the maintenance plan and would continue to supply the paint and other materials, such as ladders, a power washer and a bucket truck as needed.

“The fact that they’re doing this for the town is tremendous,” Mr. Walter said. “We are looking forward to a long partnership with the Cradle of Aviation Museum.”

cmurray@timesreview.com 

10/21/13 7:00am
10/21/2013 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The F-14 on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton.

The F-14 and A-6E fighter jets on loan from the U.S. Navy and on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton will receive much-needed repairs this week, Riverhead Town officials have announced.

After concerns raised by Calverton civic members and a News-Review article in May highlighting the planes’ deteriorating condition, the town is partnering with Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City to make the proper repairs.

“I wish to express my utmost appreciation to the Cradle of Aviation Museum for providing the volunteer labor necessary to provide the necessary facelift to the F-14 and A-6 Navy aircraft,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said in a statement. “This memorial recognizes the significant efforts that Grumman employees played in the history of both the Town of Riverhead and the entire United States of America. I am thrilled that we are able to keep the park open in a pristine manner that is deserving of those who served our country.”

Volunteers, many of them Grumman retirees, will provide their services free of charge for the cleanup. The Town will supply the paint and other materials, such as ladders, a power washer and a bucket truck.

The work on both the F-14 and A-6 aircraft is scheduled to take place Friday.

cmurray@timesreview.com 

07/22/13 12:00pm
07/22/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The F-16 on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton.

This September, the F-14 and A-6E fighter jets on loan from the U.S. Navy and on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton will receive much-needed repairs, Riverhead Town officials said.

After concerns raised by Calverton civic members and a News-Review article in May highlighting the planes’ deteriorating condition, the town is partnering with Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City to make the proper repairs.

On Thursday, Riverhead Town engineer Ken Testa received word that the museum has assembled a small volunteer group of Grumman retirees to paint, repair and power-wash the aircraft, free of charge.

The town will be required to pay only the cost of materials, Mr. Testa said.

Work will begin in early September, when the weather cools.

cmurray@timesreview.com 

05/17/13 11:00am
05/17/2013 11:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Bob Lawless of Bellport stopped by Grumman Memorial Park with his 5-year-old twin grandsons, Alex and Ayden Labella of Sayville, on Tuesday. He said the first thing the boys noticed was peeling paint on the F-14 Tomcat’s nose.

A path of engraved bricks at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton narrates the legacy of Grumman Aerospace Corporation.

“I pride myself for working for a company like Grumman,” one reads.

“Grumman should never be forgotten,” another insists.

But in the five years since Riverhead Town took control of the site, those who helped establish the park say those words are losing their meaning.

Grumman Memorial Park, located on Route 25 near the Route 25A intersection on the former Grumman Aerospace Flight Test Facility property, pays tribute to the advances in aviation and aerospace that took place on Long Island throughout the 20th century. The park opened in 2000 thanks to the volunteer efforts of the nonprofit East End Aircraft group. In 2008, the organization entered into a licensing agreement with the town and relinquished all responsibility for the improvement, maintenance and public access to the park.

Town Board members approved the agreement unanimously.

Since then, East End Aircraft has dissolved and the F-14 and A-6E model fighter jets on display at the park have become chipped and weathered, much to the shock and disgust of those who helped open the tribute 13 years ago.

Last week, former East End Aircraft group volunteer Pat Van de Wetering wrote a letter on behalf of the Greater Calverton Civic Association urging Riverhead Town Board members to take action to protect the historic aircraft.

“As residents of Calverton we are proud to have this memorial park; however, the present condition of the aircraft is an embarrassment,” the letter stated.

“It’s a disgrace,” Greater Calverton Civic Association president Rex Farr said about what’s happened to the memorial’s airplanes, one of which has birds nesting on it.

Allowing the planes to deteriorate, Mr. Farr said, is “insane and a great disrespect to our heritage.”

The East End Aircraft group convinced the U.S. Navy 16 years ago to lend the F-14 for display at the one-acre memorial park. The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is one of the top fighter planes in the nation’s military history — and one of the most famous, thanks in part to Hollywood movies like “Top Gun,” which came out in 1986 and featured the plane.

The plane donated by the Navy for the memorial was one of 700 models made by Grumman at the Calverton facility between 1971 and 1992.

The plane was first flown into Gabreski Airport in January 1998, where it was decommissioned by the Navy, its engines and weapons removed. It was towed to Calverton in October 1998. The F-14 was fixed to its pedestal in July 2000 and the park was opened to the public three months later, in October.

The museum’s A-6E Intruder was added to the park in 2005. That plane was the next-to-last of its kind built by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation. After entering service in 1972, it flew with nine Navy squadrons, including bombing missions over Iraq during the first Gulf War, before being decommissioned and donated to the park.

The park was maintained by volunteers for eight years before the town took over the property. In 2008, Joe Van de Wetering, then the chairman of East End Aircraft, cited a dwindling pool of volunteers as the group’s primary reason for turning the park over to the town.

“Our volunteers are getting older and some of them are disappearing; I don’t mean to Florida,” he previously told the News-Review.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said this week it’s a lack of funding, not lack of effort, that threatens the future of the aircraft.

“It’s not in the town’s budget,” he said, adding that he’s reached out to town engineers and an expert to talk about potential project costs.

In the past, East End Aircraft volunteers generate money for the park through fundraisers. Currently, proceeds from the sale of memorial bricks placed along the park’s Walk of Honor are deposited into a town-operated account that was established by the licensing agreement. The Walk of Honor money is intended to help fund upkeep of the museum, including the aircraft. But at $75 per brick, those proceeds do not cover cost of painting and restoring the planes, according to Pat Van de Wetering, who is paid $10 per brick sold for her efforts.

Currently, the town landscapes the grounds and provides the labor to install the bricks, Ms. Van de Wetering said.

“I know there are money issues; our main concern is the planes,” Ms. Van De Wetering said.

In 2007, when the planes were last painted, Ms. Van De Wetering recalled the process as being “pricey.” However, during the last five years the town has not sought out a quote for the necessary paint jobs, she said.

“What upsets me the most is that [the town] has not even gotten a quote. I have given the town the phone number of the person that previously painted the planes. They haven’t called.” Ms. Van de Wetering said.

But Mr. Walter said he will be coordinating with town engineers and has spoken with Andrew Parson, director of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, to figure out the proper way to restore the planes.

“We are working with the town to find a solution that’s not a burden to the taxpayers,” Mr. Parson said. “Sometimes it’s a simple paint job, but sometimes it’s more complicated. This type of work needs expertise; it can get expensive.”

There is no time frame for completing the maintenance work, Mr. Walter said. But Mr. Parson advised that work on the planes should finished before the winter, when they will become more susceptible to further damage from the elements.

“We have the time from now until the fall to hopefully get this done,” Mr. Parson said.

cmurray@timesreview.com