Sunday, March 3, 2013

In Tough Times, The Strong Make Bold Moves

I would really love to know how many people truly have ever considered their plans for the next twenty years.   Thinking about the future is a daily struggle for me.  Is it for you?
If you’re 45, has it really sunk in that in just 15 years you’ll be 60; an age that was OLD when we were kids.  Do you wonder if on that date your home will be in the middle of good neighborhood or bad?  Will inflation have taken all your investments down the tubes?  What about your legacy?
It seems Americans are increasingly bent on building monuments to themselves.  For me though that’s not a concern.  If you don’t have kids, when you’re dead, you’re really dead.  Yet before that happens, death, I would love to know I helped defend something, made it stable, and because of something I did, others would have it to enjoy as I have.
There was a time I would have given anything to know Lee Bottom Flying Field would be here another 50 – 100 years.  Admittedly though, that was another time.  As politics and economies have revealed to me, not a year passes that I can’t believe how stupid I was the one before.  In fact, there was a time I felt people would cherish such a thing; an airport, a park, a peaceful throwback, a place where the merits of internal combustion and the never ending desire for freedom could not be denied.  The airport would be a place where neither the environment was trashed or locked away by bureaucrats.  Where dozens of different birds could be seen or heard in the morning and radials at noon.  The last stand of Ohio River, undeveloped by today’s standards, would be a place where flags flew, children stood pie-eyed, and adult hearts soared with the planes they saw.  Motorcycles, cars, tractors, and boats, would come from miles around.  It would be the last wetland to their version of waterfowl.  Ahhh, it sounds great doesn’t it?
I can close my eyes and see it now.  Unfortunately, the time has come for all of us to be honest with ourselves.  The clock is racing us to the finish.  Recently, a friend’s statement woke me to the reality and made me aware some people believe they know what Ginger and I should do with our lives and property.  If that’s you, I hope you’ll keep reading.
Not that long ago, I was working with a friend and discussing the future when he expressed his long term plans and what mine had to be.  It went something like this, “And of course you have to find someone to pass Lee Bottom to, the way it was given to you”.  NEWS ALERT:  You may be stunned to hear me say this but there are very few things I have ever said that I regret.  One of them involves the notion that Lee Bottom was dropped in my lap free of charge.
Several calendars ago, I was being interviewed during one of our fly-ins when I told the story of how I came to own Lee Bottom.  Ginger and I had talked about this for years and agreed it should never be told because people wouldn’t understand.  Yet on that day I decided I really wanted the role Fritz played in all this to be recognized.  Therefore, I told the highly abbreviated story of how he surprised me and left it to me in his will.  Unfortunately, by abbreviating it, I didn’t really tell the whole or correct story and I have regretted it ever since.
During the interview I didn’t express how much of my own money I had already put into the place despite my limited income at the time.  Never did I fully explain all that I had done, with Fritz’ blessing, to improve the airport.  And I really didn’t make it clear that Fritz left more to others or how he had attempted to find, in the few members of his family that were left, someone to give it to.  It turns out none of them wanted it and Fritz was damn sure the government wasn’t going to get it.  So, in his will, Fritz forgave the remaining debt on a deal he and I had worked out, which I was already paying.  That doesn’t take away from what Fritz did but it is certainly a different story than “Fritz left it to me”.
Not long after Fritz passed away, my income went up dramatically and nearly all of the new "revenue" went into the airport.  Ginger and I gave up things we loved because Fritz had always wanted the next farm and I was damn sure that the airport was going to have it.  With Ginger’s help we began to improve the field and build what we hoped would be a great future for it.  Within years there were very few places in the aviation world we went where someone didn’t see our shirt and tell us they’d either been or that they have always wanted to go there.  Much of this of course was also due to the great people who had always supported our efforts.  Because of this, we decided we should try to figure out a way the airport could carry on when we were gone.  And that’s where we are today.
One thing’s for sure, despite its popularity, if it is to carry on long term (more than twenty years), it’s going to need someone or something to support it.  Those are the realities of anything.
Something I'm really proud of is our Lee Bottom Family Members.  Years ago we decided we would keep Lee Bottom open and growing for as long as people supported it.  It’s one thing to be surrounded by friends when you throw parties and pay all the bills.  When you put the burden of proof in the hands of those who want something to survive, that’s another.  Times like that are when you find out the true number of supporters you have.  As it turned out, Lee Bottom had true supporters and we plugged along together without government grants or military displays.  When something was needed, we all put forth the money or elbow grease to make things happen.  Everyone did whatever they could.  Every time I think of these people, I smile with pride.  Now though we must do more than work for today.  We must plan for the future.
Like I said, our Lee Bottom Family Members have always done a great job of supporting the airport.  Looking around though, many of them will be gone in fifteen to twenty years.  What then?  Despite our desires, we can’t do it all by ourselves.  By then Ginger and I will be slowing down too.
This brings us to potential options and some realities.
Nothing like Lee Bottom can survive long term without a source of funding.  That is the cold reality.
The last thing the world needs is another fast food restaurant.  Yet, each year another successful chain pops up.  Likewise, the last thing aviation needs is another museum.  Despite that, it is possible, with proper planning, to create something that would survive long term.  This option would require better facilities, ongoing fundraisers, and more formality.
An investor, someone who loves vintage aviation, could come in and secure it for a very long time.  The tax benefits for public use airports in Indiana are so good that were this any other industry, someone would be begging us to sell it to them or lease them land so they could house their business/collection here.  Yet in aviation all big collectors of antique aircraft, and most businesses, are so tied to one geographical area they would never move to Lee Bottom.  I’ve discussed it with many of them.  Aviation is a strange bird.
Another option is to go back to being nothing more than a quiet field in the middle of nowhere and let it die a slow death until one of us is in such poor health we are forced to sell or we simply can’t take care of it any longer.  This is not a pleasant option.
We could continue to make small annual improvements, such as the seaplane base, better utilities, and a few hangars and go slightly toward a more commercial operation.  Yet, these things cost money and aviators are inherently sketchy when it comes to getting commitments from them.  People are always asking about hangars but only one of them has ever agreed to sign on the line.
We’ve looked at so many options it makes my head spin and the time is rapidly approaching to put one into action.  What would you do?  Or do you care?  During years past we discussed options for the events.  Now we are talking options for the future.  Maybe you wonder why we bother; putting our thoughts out there for people to see?
The future of Lee Bottom is tied to the future of aviation.  If today’s aviators and enthusiasts aren’t putting their heads to use, neither will last very long.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You speak the sad truth. For most of us Americans, the future is no longer looking good or even as good as yesterday.

Wish I had an answer. I have the same problem myself. I am now 60 and no one to take over when I am no longer able to take care of things.

Bob Herren