Airport formally renamed in honor of Eugene F. Kranz

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May 22—Toledo celebrated its space-pioneering native son Saturday with a nearly two-hour ceremony rededicating Toledo Express Airport in honor of Eugene F. Kranz, the 34-year NASA mission-control veteran best known as flight director for the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 moon missions.

"My life began here, it began in aviation," Mr. Kranz, 87, said during his own remarks after being regaled by several local and aerospace dignitaries during the morning event at the airport that now bears his name. He called his career in aviation and aerospace testament to good things that happen "if you're willing to make the best" of your opportunities.

"I enjoy celebrating Toledo with you," Mr. Kranz told the gathering of about 80 people, held invitation-only as a coronavirus precaution but streamed live over the internet.

Mr. Kranz received several proclamations in his honor as well as, from Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, both a glass key to the city and a hand-sewn white vest adorned with patches bearing the city's seal, those of the police and fire departments, and several other Toledo-related emblems.

The white vest, the mayor said, was sewn by Dana Loeb, an Old Orchard neighborhood resident, in the style of those Mr. Kranz was known to wear as the "white team" flight director during the space missions he oversaw. He donned it over the "Failure Is Not An Option" golf shirt he wore to the event that matched the title of his 2000 memoir about his NASA career.

After speaking, Mr. Kranz took time to autograph programs from the ceremony and, for Lindsay Sanzenbacher, an astronomy and physics teacher at the Toledo Public Schools' Aviation and Natural Sciences Academy of Toledo, a copy of his book.

"It was more than I had hoped from today," Ms. Sanzenbacher said of getting the autograph. "Ever since they announced they were naming the airport after him, I hoped an event like this would happen."

Among others in the audience was Matt Walsh, a procurement specialist from West Toledo who in 2017 sent letters to local leaders encouraging them to consider naming the airport in Mr. Kranz's honor.

Mr. Walsh said he has been "a fan of NASA missions my entire life" and considered Mr. Kranz's mantra of "toughness and competence" to have inspired his own pursuits that include a master's degree in organizational leadership from Lourdes University.

"I pretty much adored the man," he said. "And one day it hit me: Toledo Express really had no identity."

A delegation of students from the TPS academy also looked on, as did numerous local dignitaries and invited relatives and friends of Mr. Kranz.

The renaming idea sprouted wings after Mayor Kapszukiewicz publicly espoused the renaming during a radio interview in 2019 close to the July 20, 1969 moon landing's 50th anniversary. City council approved the renaming later that year and the Federal Aviation Administration formally accepted it shortly thereafter, but the rededication ceremony was put off for a year because of the coronavirus.

"The port authority is honored that our local airport is named after a local legend," said Thomas Winston, president and chief executive of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which operates the city-owned facility under a long-term lease. "It is very fitting that the airport — our airport — now bears his name."

A 15-piece band and nine-member chorus from Central Catholic High School, of which Mr. Kranz is a 1951 graduate, performed to open Saturday's event, followed by a dual-F16 flyover from the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing.

Mr. Kranz recounted his West Toledo childhood during which he worked several jobs to help his widowed mother keep the family afloat while attending Central Catholic, yet still found opportunities to watch airplanes and meet pilots at what was then the Franklin Field airport on the current site of Franklin Park Mall.

He again credited Central Catholic's nuns with helping him obtain a scholarship to Parks College, an aviation school near St. Louis in Cahokia, Ill. that became his springboard to pursue his dream career in aviation after he failed the physical exam required for admission to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Even the commute to Parks proved educational, Mr. Kranz said, because it involved hitchhiking with truckers who spoke of their own experiences during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl and thus brought that historical era to life for him.

And he described some of the glitches that made the now-famous Apollo 11 moon landing far from a certain success, but which were overcome in large part by following the "mission rules" he and his National Aeronautics and Space Administration team had drafted to pre-plan for every imaginable situation that might arise.

Bob Dempsey, a current NASA flight director, said Mr. Kranz's spirit lives on at the space agency, including when crises develop like one aboard the International Space Station just over a decade ago.

Alarms that sounded during the wee hours announced that "half the systems on the spacecraft had just shut down," but mission-control procedures honed over the preceding half-century led to a successful resolution, Mr. Dempsey recalled.

"We knew that we had been prepared because of leaders like Gene Kranz," he said. "I can assure you that his legacy is continuing on at NASA."

Army Col. (Ret.) Douglas Wheelock, who was an astronaut aboard the space station during that incident, said he had watched the moon landing on television when he was 9, then returned to his rural Windsor, N.Y. school that fall to a classroom in which the teacher told her students, "One day, you could do that too."

He said he doubted at the time the teacher was right, but the space missions Mr. Kranz orchestrated were nonetheless inspiring, and discovered later on that many of his fellow astronauts hailed from small towns like his.

"We're all just ordinary kids from ordinary places with extraordinary dreams for our lives," Colonel Wheelock said.

The "toughness and competence" Mr. Kranz espoused, he continued, "are the price of admission in Mission Control ... and we can't expect that of others until we've mastered those in ourselves."

Mr. Kranz noted that after serving in the active-duty Air Force in Korea during the mid-1950s, he entered the reserves and oversaw systems development for the B-52 bomber at McDonnell Aircraft Corp. later that decade.

"I was 27 years old and running the program. I thought, 'It can't get better than this,'" he recalled.

But he then made a fateful decision in 1960 to apply when he saw an advertisement at Edwards AIr Force Base in California from NASA, which was seeking assistant flight directors for the nascent space program.

Gary Byers, representing the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, noted in his remarks that the computing power available to all of NASA at the time would have been dwarfed by the microprocessors in a modern smartphone.

"To accomplish the things that they did is almost overwhelming," Mr. Byers said. Mr. Kranz's career, he said, typified "honesty and accountability and dedication to excellence ... and if we aspire to those goals, I guarantee our community will be better."

Mr. Kranz and several members of his family who accompanied him on his trip to Toledo from his current home in Dickinson, Texas were to be the guests of honor at a luncheon in the airport's passenger terminal following the dedication.

The luncheon, provided by Tony Packo's, was to be held in the airport's new business center, which occupies the former gift shop area and is decorated with memorabilia about and from Mr. Kranz's career, including two framed NASA montages that Mr. Kranz donated.

Along with the vest and key from the mayor, Mr. Kranz received from U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol as well as copies of proclamations delivered by aides to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). Ms. Kaptur was unable to attend because of an out-of-town funeral, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

First Published May 22, 2021, 9:48am

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