Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 23, 2013

Senior Focus: Earhart remains inspirational 76 years later

BY KATHLEEN GEST
Local columnist

---- — As a young girl, I was always fascinated with flying. Piloting my own airplane, soaring above the Earth in the vast blue of the sky, became my dream and Amelia Earhart became my image of what a successful woman aviator might accomplish.

Larry Inman, Grand Traverse County Commissioner, took his fascination with Amelia Earhart one step further. For the last twenty years he has been collecting artifacts, autobiographies, biographies and photos of her life and disappearance. He is organizing his collection into a traveling museum exhibit, which he eventually would like to show nationally and internationally.

On Dec.16, at 10:30 a.m., he will talk about his Amelia Earhart collection. Sponsored by the Senior Center Network and the Traverse City History Center, Inman’s presentation will be held at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center.

On July 2, 1937, while attempting to make a historic flight to circumnavigate the globe at the equator, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. They had left Lae, New Guinea, flying a Purdue University-funded Lockheed Electra 10E. They were headed for the uninhabited Howland Island, where they were to meet with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca for fuel and rest – then fly on to Honolulu. They never made the rendezvous.

“The mystery and theories of her disappearance have followed us through our grandparents time and our time – up even until today,” Inman said.

“As I got more involved in Amelia Earhart as a person, reading her biographies by a number of authors, I became more passionate toward the person and all of her accomplishments – everything she tried to do. She was really on the forefront of the women’s movement back in the late twenties and early thirties. She was accomplishing things in terms of air records and flights that men in her era had not yet achieved.”

There are hundreds of biographies on Amelia Earhart. Inman has accumulated about 50 of them – ones that he views as the most reliable and informative in terms of what Amelia Earhart accomplished and what she was like as a person.

Not only has Inman been working with Purdue and Harvard Universities, where family members have donated Amelia Earhart memorabilia, but he also has collected original photographs and artifacts through private and online auctions.

“My research started out with just the last flight and as I got into the flight, I came up with a lot of questions – among them, how did she end up flying her last flight?” Inman said. “You try to understand how and why Amelia Earhart would take the level of risk she did on that last flight. But in order for you to understand it, you have to understand what she did her whole life from learning how to fly to challenging herself to do long distance stunt flying that no other women or men would typically do – alone in a plane.”

When she became famous and went on the talk circuit around the country, she always ended her talk with a message. She wanted to demonstrate and to set an example for all women – they too could have a career in anything they choose to do. Her goal was to challenge women to do the same things men could do and even do them better. If a woman wanted a career in aviation, she was there to help her, he said.

In Earhart’s own words, “My ambition is to have this wonderful gift produce practical results for the future of commercial flying and for the women who may want to fly tomorrow’s planes.”

“That is part of her legacy and that is part of my presentation,” Inman explained. “Not only do I talk about her flight achievements, how she got there and show artifacts and photographs, but I also talk about her — the strong role model.”

Today, 76 years since their disappearance, the fate of Earhart and Noonan remains an unsolved mystery. Several theories have emerged to explain what happened. They fall into three main categories and searches, which Inman has included in his presentation – crashing at sea, being marooned on a remote island or becoming Japanese prisoners.

To make reservations for the Amelia Earhart presentation and for more information, call the Senior Center Network at 922-4911 or email ehovie@grandtraverse.org