GARY — Themes of partnership, inspiration, innovation and entrepreneurship echoed throughout Thursday’s dedication of the Octave Chanute Biplane Glider Dream Memorial at Ivy Tech Community College’s Gary campus.
The monument, planned by the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana for more than a year, features as its centerpiece a replica of the plane designed by Chanute. An aviation pioneer, Chanute launched the double-wing plane as a glider from a dune in Gary’s Marquette Park in 1896.
“His flying machine was instrumental, pivotal to the Wright Brothers,” said John Davies, the Society’s managing director and the person who began the search for evidence of Chanute’s flight at Marquette Park 30 years ago. “We celebrate the homecoming of this glider.”
O’Merrial Butchee, director of the Gerald Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneur Center at Ivy Tech, said, “We’re honored to celebrate the world famous Chanute glider. “This will be an enduring reminder not only of Northwest Indiana’s contribution to the historic event, but the power of a single idea to change the world.”
That theme of flight continued throughout the ceremonies with speakers designated as “founding pilots.”
A flyover in the first few minutes of the ceremony also celebrated the power of what’s possible, Butchee said.
As Jared Riddle, chair of Ivy Tech’s English and communication department, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Ken Rapier flew over the crowd in a Tuskegee Red Tail plane. Rapier serves as president of the Chicago “DODO” Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. that offers flights for young people from the Gary Chicago International Airport.
Audience members waved handmade felt red, white and blue pennants during Rapier’s additional flyovers.
The memorial dedication celebrated three purposes, Butchee said.
“We hope to encourage future dreamers. This has been designated as an official Bicentennial Legacy Project for Indiana and it honors the contributions of the late Dr. Richard Sussman, chair emeritus of the Society,” she told those gathered. Sussman’s family members attended the dedication.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the memorial will serve as a way to inspire younger generations with their history.
“We can do great things, and we can do it if we work together,” the mayor said.
Newly-appointed Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann said Octave Chanute “was the person who thought man could fly, that it could be done.” The former Indiana lieutenant governor called the memorial “a great example of innovation and inspiration.”
Ivy Tech Gary Campus President Marlon R. Mitchell said, “It takes everyone to make innovation happen…We need to inspire our students to innovate, to make their dreams come alive.”
The replica, which weighs 500 pounds with a wing-span of 15-1/2 feet, was donated to the Society last fall by the now-closed Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, Illinois.
“We had an offer from a private party. I’m so glad that deal fell through,” said Nancy Kobel, president of the board of directors of the Chanute Air Museum. Kobel traveled to Gary for the dedication and called the memorial “a blessing.”
A giant mural replicating artist John Rush’s “Flight” painting was also unveiled during the ceremony. Installed by members of TradeWinds, the mural depicts Chanute’s flight, the P-51 Red Tail, a drone and an image of distant space captured by the Hubble telescope.
“You guys are rocking the state’s bicentennial,” said Perry Hammock, executive director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, to thunderous applause.