State grant too late to save Chanute air show

State grant too late to save Chanute air show

RANTOUL – Two months after the loss of a state grant nearly caused the Chanute Air Museum to close, the state has changed its mind and decided to award the grant anyway.

But the grant comes too late to save the museum's air show, which has been grounded for 2008.

State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, said that Illinois Department of Tourism officials notified him this week that it will award the museum a $35,000 grant to pay for marketing costs for the August 2007 air show.

"It shows you that even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while," said Black, who had been writing a series of letters to the tourism department demanding reasons why the museum was rejected for the grant.

"I kept after them and wasn't about to let down until I had an answer," Black said. "The museum has lost a lot of money, and the failure to get this grant is what put the museum in this bind."

Janice D. Kemmerling, local tourism division manager for the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, confirmed that the museum would receive a $35,000 grant.

"We are hopeful that this will assist the museum in staying open to the public," Kemmerling said in a written statement.

Museum historian Don Weckhorst said he was thrilled to hear about getting the grant money.

"Gee whiz. Oh, my gosh. I'm on cloud nine," Weckhorst said. "This makes my day."

The grant money originally was intended to pay for billboards and other advertising for the museum's air show, which was held in August.

Museum President Jim Eldridge said organizers expected the air show to draw more than 10,000 visitors to the museum that weekend, bringing in money to operate the museum for the coming year.

But sweltering heat and temperatures above 100 degrees both days produced paid attendance of 3,700 people.

Without both the grant money and expected air show money, the museum board appealed to its 327 members in February, asking for $24,000 in emergency donations to help the museum pay its bills and keep its doors open.

Eldridge also asked his entire 12-member board to resign, to be replaced with a board with a stronger background in fundraising.

"Getting the state grant money is wonderful news," said Helen Lewis, the only one of the board members who declined Eldridge's invitation to resign. "Getting this money will be a shot in the arm for the museum. It's going to be a great help."

But Lewis said the air show will not happen in 2008 and will be replaced by a series of smaller fundraisers.

"We had no choice but to cancel the air show," Lewis said.

Black said he isn't holding his breath until the check arrives in the museum's mailbox.

"Until we actually have the check in hand, I'm not going to do handstands," Black said.

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