HAYDEN — Richard Le Francis refuses to let his museum go down.
Instead, he’s doubling down.
Perhaps you found your way to the Pappy Boyington Field Museum on west Wyoming Avenue at some point in the last few years.
If you enjoyed it and plan on a return visit, though, you’ll have to do it online.
The museum named for the Coeur d’Alene area’s most famous aviator — Medal of Honor recipient and World War II ace Pappy Boyington of the famed “Black Sheep Squadron” — now exists only in virtual reality.
Le Francis put blood, sweat and tears — not to mention bucks — into the museum project, from leasing a building on the Fraternal Order of Eagles property, then opening in 2012, to finally being turfed out with a lease expiration this past February.
All those spectacular artifacts are stuck in a warehouse.
Yet he’s more fired up than ever, and that’s saying something for the mega-energy guy.
Here’s all Le Francis cares to say about leaving the Eagles’ parking lot: “Last year (2016), we had about a thousand visitors — without any signs, on someone else’s property, with almost no marketing — and we just about broke even.
“Museums normally take 25 years to become actual destinations with valuable displays. We did it in a lot less than that.”
Le Francis is glad you asked, because he’s managed to land another Coeur d’Alene aviation superstar — legendary aircraft designer and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan — as an advocate.
Since moving here six years ago, Rutan has done something that would have been unthinkable over the past few decades: He’s given speeches for free.
“Normally I do get paid to appear,” Rutan said, as modestly as possible. “But my wife (Tonya) and I have made this our home. We want to be part of the community and know our neighbors.”
It’s no surprise that Rutan has been in demand.
This is a man with six of his original-design planes and one spacecraft on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
He was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine in 2004, and nine years after that — at the age of 70 — Flying magazine listed him at No. 18 among its “51 Heroes of Aviation.”
He designed the ultra-light Rutan Voyager, in which his brother Dick and co-pilot Jeana Yeager in 1986 became the first to fly non-stop and unfueled around the world.
Burt Rutan has won the Collier Trophy (American aviation’s highest honor) twice and 18 years apart — for the Voyager in ’86 and in 2004 for designing SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded craft to enter the realm of space twice within a two-week period.
And by the way, other winners include Orville Wright, Howard Hughes and the crew of Apollo 11, which gave the world Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.
It’s not your everyday award, and Rutan was the first double winner since 1923.
“In aviation, there’s nothing he hasn’t done,” Le Francis said. “He’s designed 46 different, unique airplanes, and a successful space craft.
“The people he knows and deals with are, like, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Paul Allen (the co-founder of Microsoft who partnered with Rutan on the space venture).”
However, the most intriguing item on Rutan’s resume — at least in this region — may be yet to come.
Le Francis has designs on a bigger, more stunning museum. He even has his eye on a 20,000-square-foot building at the airport complex, with the idea of creating a combination museum and learning center.
“Eventually there also will be a café and meeting space, which are both very badly needed in this area of town,” he said.
Le Francis’ voice nearly shivers with anticipation, simply because Rutan wants to help him.
“He’s said we can use his name while looking for funding,” Le Francis said. “And it would be hard to find a bigger name in aviation.”
In fact, Rutan intends to offer more than his name.
“I’ll be really busy until the end of this summer,” he said. “I’m designing one more plane at my company down in California, and I want to get it done while I can still fly it.
“But after that, I would be happy to work with Richard on the whole concept. I really like having a learning center, where STEM education can be important at a time when engineers are in short supply.
“We need people to work with technology, and the Coeur d’Alene area can be a hub for that.”
Rutan clearly could be a game-changer.
“It means everything to have Burt involved,” Le Francis said. “Maybe we can find the backing — from a family trust or a corporation — to buy that building, or purchase some property nearby for our own, specially designed facility.
“But we’re not tied to a location. We committed to this concept of putting the museum together with a learning center.
“Each part of it is exciting. We have plenty of wonderful items from the previous museum, and we’re getting more all the time.”
It’s hardly a shock that Le Francis has come up with a potential name for this dream facility, even if it might be somewhere between two and five years in the distance.
The Rutan Air and Space Learning Center and Pappy Boyington Veterans Museum.
“It does sound good, doesn’t it?” he
As the time comes to a close on current location we are not going away. We are taking our museum and stories (become a sponsor) online with digital history until we get a building. Looking for organizations, corporations, or private sponsors who support our veterans history preservation. We need our own building to expand our goals for future visitors and historians.
Saving Pappy Boyington
By RICHARD LE FRANCIS Guest Opinion | Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 12:00 am
How time flies. It's hard to believe that 6 years ago on Dec. 24, 2010, an article in the Cd’A Press about my efforts to bring the old Playland Pier carousel back to Cd’A caught the attention of newcomers John and Pat Foote. They contacted me on Christmas day and I made "the pitch." They subsequently purchased the carousel for $300,000 ($50,000 is still owed) and 51 days after the article was printed it was delivered. Hundreds of thousands of smiling children, their parents, grandparents and tourists will enjoy this treasure for many years to come.
Now, because of the generosity of the Bud Ford family, the little building that will house it is nearing completion. The 2000 Walker-Macy plan to "save" downtown included two buildings similar to the one being built. The second building was an events building which served birthday parties, family events, weddings and other functions which would provide self-supporting opportunities. As plans for the "four corners" are developing, a second building (as recommended in the expensive Walker-Macy plan) should be included in the new plan.
The Footes' only request (other than having the $50,000 paid back) was that the carousel not be a burden to the taxpayer. The second building will ensure this. The city need only provide the site for a future building and private funds can build it later. The “how to” support for this has already been offered by the successful Missoula, Salem and Spokane carousel organizations.
Unfortunately AND fortunately, when the press article came out I was already pursuing the monumental task of leasing and restoring the old Hayden Eagles building, which was out-to-bid to tear down and take to the landfill. With the help of a few volunteers, Dale Childers and I began this Herculean task. As all of this is a volunteer effort, I had to resign as original president of the Cd’A Carousel Foundation to focus on building the Pappy Boyington Field Museum from “scratch.”
The success of this project has been surprising and overwhelming. The museum has acquired thousands of artifacts and stories about the sacrifices local veterans (including Medal-of-Honor and Navy Cross recipient and native Pappy Boyington) have made for our freedoms. All of these events are chronicled at our website: www.themuseums.us.
On Dec. 31, 2016, the museum is at the end of a five-year lease (the rent of which was DOUBLED every year). We have been trying for over a year to develop a new lease which is mandated of both parties in the original lease. Inexplicably, the Hayden Lake Eagles have been loathe to communicate. This puts us obviously in a difficult planning situation.
Rather than complain about the dirth of patriotism we are looking to the future. The Pappy Boyington Field Museum now has had thousands of visitors and hundreds of thousands of hits on our website from visitors from 64 countries. We are growing and are ready to move to the next level. We would like to build a first-rate facility at Pappy Boyington Field that will bring in thousands of visitors, provide a much needed airport cafe and provide a STEM-type education space. We envision this to be comparable with the Richard Bong Aviation Heritage Center in Wisconsin and the Warhawk Museum at Nampa, Idaho.
We have been encouraged by the directors of both museums because we have one of the most famous names in American military and aviation history — Pappy Boyington! The proposed location would be directly across the street from the 8-foot-high bronze statue that Bran K. Ross and myself created which is at the west end of Wyoming Avenue, Hayden. It is a “doable” project that can be a community effort. All it needs is time and benefactors like the Foote and Ford families as well as corporations who want their name connected to one of history’s most iconic names.
If you want to help, contact us at our website above — and if you know any Hayden Lake Eagles who are patriotic, have them help us with the Hayden Eagles.
• • •
Richard Le Francis is the founder and original president of the CdA Carousel Foundation 501(c)3, president of the Pappy Boyington Field Museum, Inc. 501 (c)3, and co-sculptor of the Pappy Boyington statue at the airport.
Pappy Boyington Veterans Museumneeds to move
By STEVE CAMERON/Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, November 28, 2016 12:00 amJAKE PARRISH/Press
Richard Le Francis points to an exhibit on Air Force veteran Bill Gillette at the Pappy Boyington Veterans Museum on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016.
HAYDEN — Richard Le Francis has a dream.
He also has a problem.
Like a lot of people, he needs some money before being tossed onto the street — but hang on just a bit for that story.
Le Francis and a couple of colleagues run the Pappy Boyington Veterans Museum, a fascinating but frustratingly obscure destination on west Wyoming Avenue in Hayden.
The idea for putting what is essentially an aviation museum across the road from the airport seemed logical enough, especially since Le Francis and fellow sculptor Bryan Ross were deeply involved in creating and installing the airfield’s statue of Boyington — the World War II flying ace and Medal of Honor winner who was born in Coeur d’Alene.
The statue project certainly seemed appropriate, since Boyington is tied with World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker for U.S. fighter kills with 26 and led the famous “Black Sleep” squadron in the South Pacific during World War II.
The eight-foot statue eventually was unveiled on Flag Day in 2015.
Boyington was such a character and charismatic figure that there was a 1970s TV show based on Pappy and his squadron called “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
Le Francis believes passionately that an aviation museum dedicated to Boyington — who grew up in St. Maries and later came back to this area — should be an iconic local site.
Unfortunately, the only building available near the airport was the old Fraternal Order of Eagles structure near the corner of Wyoming and Ramsey Road, basically a stone’s throw from the airport — and now the statue of Boyington.
“When the Eagles built a new building, the old one was in such bad shape that it was almost yellow and you could still smell cigarette smoke,” Le Francis said. “The Eagles were planning to have it demolished.”
Instead, Le Francis took what he admits was “a jump straight off the edge” and worked out a lease agreement for six years. The museum gang — which includes Dale Childers, Foy DeMoss and Theresa Hart — fixed up the building (Le Francis tossing in $22,000 of his own money) and began acquiring artifacts.
It is now a terrific museum, complete with a lot of Boyington’s memorabilia, items and photos of other local war heroes, and plenty more fascinating displays.
But there are two huge difficulties: one perhaps solvable, the other maybe not.
The museum crew is running on a shoestring budget — a fundraiser is planned for Friday and Saturday— and one of the casualties has been publicity.
“The location isn’t easy to find,” Le Francis said. “It’s not downtown with other tourist sites. We don’t even have a nice sign you can see from the street, because we just can’t afford it.”
Despite the out-in-the-boonies location, the museum has attracted more visitors each year it’s been open — from just 35 at the beginning to several hundred each season currently.
What’s more, people who visit form a wide circle, and more items have been donated than the 5,000-square-foot building can hold.
“That part has been amazing,” Le Francis said. “Look at this: It’s a signed print showing the dogfight in which Pappy was finally shot down by Masajiro Kawato. Pappy and Kawato each wrote autobiographies, and they became friends after the war. It’s a fantastic story.
“But this print was headed for the dump when somebody saved it. What a great discovery.”
Le Francis’ enthusiasm drops, however, when he addresses reality.
The Eagles have terminated the museum’s lease, which expires Dec. 31, and approaches to buy the building outright have been unsuccessful.
Eagles employee Deanna Chapin explained Friday that all business decisions for the club are made by its board of trustees. She said the Eagles’ relationship with Le Francis has been a good one, but trustees plan to rent out the building for events like conferences, weddings and memorial services.
“It’s more feasible for us than the museum,” she said, adding that the offer to buy the building wasn’t nearly strong enough to make the transaction work.
“We don’t want to kick him out in the cold,” Chapin said. “He just needs to be over at the airport.”
What happens next is anybody’s guess, although Le Francis has some goals.
The hundreds of valuable artifacts are not in danger, since Le Francis has a hangar at the airport in which they can be temporarily stored.
“But what I really hope will happen,” Le Francis said, “is that we can build a proper museum on a lot that’s empty, across the street and next to the airport.
“This area needs a first-class meeting space, not to mention a café for the airport customers. We could provide all of that in a fantastic museum that’s basically in the shadow of Pappy’s statue.
“What we need, obviously, is somebody with enough money — or maybe a company, someone who uses the airport regularly — to sponsor the project.
“It would be fantastic publicity for them, and it would allow the area to continue the museum tribute to Pappy Boyington.
“Somehow, some way, we’re just determined that a museum this valuable to the Coeur d’Alene area is just not going to go away.”
We are still Pappy Boyington Field Museum Inc a non profit 501(c)(3) and we are not associated with any government entity. Pappy Boyington Field Museum Inc will use the name " Pappy Boyington Veterans Museum" to clarify our mission.
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