To hold onto the past, people must work to keep it alive in the present.
Joseph Salvatore, who was born and grew up in Cape May County, recalls a time when the Cape May Airport's Naval Air Station Wildwood was an active training facility for U.S. naval aviators during World War II.
Forty-two U.S. Navy airmen died while training at the Naval Air Station, Salvatore said. In 1997, as a means to memorialize those servicemen and the history made there, Salvatore worked to create the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum out of an old wooden hangar that had been scheduled for demolition.
Since then, the museum - which houses a host of aviation artifacts and more than 26 aircraft from World War II and other conflicts - has raised more than $2.3 million in grants for renovations and restorations, and visitor attendance has increased every year, said Salvatore, executive director.
The hangar is now listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places at the "national significance" level, he said.
On Nov. 24, the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum was awarded a $232,000 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to be used for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements.
Handing over the oversized check to Salvatore was Leonard Desiderio, chairman of the South Jersey Economic Development District board of directors and a Cape May County freeholder, as well as Gordon Dahl, SJEDD's executive director. SJEDD assisted Lower Township in applying for the Small Cities CDBG grant.
"Many months and many phone calls (by SJEDD) made this possible," Salvatore said. "As you know, money is not given out easily today."
Desiderio said SJEDD and Cape May County are fortunate to have such a devoted person willing to fight to keep the station's history alive.
"It is our great pleasure to assist Dr. Salvatore in keeping up with this Cape May County landmark," he said. "Dr. Salvatore puts his heart, soul, blood and sweat into this great tourist destination, and this (grant) will only help to make it better and safer."
Salvatore said the money will be used to make access to the World War II vintage Hangar No. 1 building at the airport 100 percent ADA compliant. As of now, only the first floor is handicapped-accessible. His hope is to install an elevator for easy access to the second floor, he said.
In time, Salvatore said, his ultimate goal is to add a restaurant and a few hotel rooms onto the hangar, to extend visitors' stay at the museum.
"An elevator on the second floor would make possible my dream of a restaurant and four hotel rooms," he said. "Pilots would be able to fly in, refuel and fix their planes, golf and go to the beach, stay overnight, have dinner and fly home."
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