It took a lengthy debate and some moving words from a 91-year-old military veteran, but lawmakers narrowly agreed Wednesday to change the name of Brown County’s airport.
By a 15-10 vote, the County Board voted to rename the facility Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport. The facility, which opened in the late 1940s, has been Austin Straubel Field, Austin Straubel Airport and, most recently, Brown County Austin Straubel International Airport.
Debate Wednesday centered on two issues: Whether adding Green Bay to the name could help boost business, and whether the addition would diminish the honor for Straubel, a lieutenant colonel who was the first Brown County airman killed in World War II. Supervisors struggled for more than an hour to achieve consensus before Hobart resident Bob Reeners addressed the group.
“As time passes by, we have a tendency to forget the real price we paid for that horrible war. Four hundred thousand of the greatest generation didn’t come home,” said Reeners, who was 19 when he landed on Utah Beach with the U.S. Navy during the Normandy Invasion. “We … would accept the name change only because of the so called economic impact. But (Straubel’s) name should stay with the airport in perpetuity … nothing you can say or do will ever change what that man did for our country.”
Green Bay Supervisor Tom Sieber said he planned to introduce legislation barring future boards from ever removing Straubel’s name from the facility.
The airport had yet to open when county leaders decided in 1946 that it would be named after Straubel. The commander of a bombardment group in the south Pacific was killed in February 1942 when Japanese fighters attacked his B-18 bomber. Straubel, a graduate of Green Bay East High School and the University of Wisconsin, was 37 when he died.
Suamico Supervisor Tom Lund had argued that Straubel’s name should remain front and center. If “Green Bay” was added, Lund said, it should be after the airman’s name.
“Otherwise,” he said, “you’re taking the name and throwing it in the garbage.”
The name change was suggested this fall by Jet Air Group president Alan Timmerman and endorsed by Airport Director Tom Miller. They said the community loses business because people don’t connect the airport’s name to Green Bay. Miller said commercial travelers know the airport serves Green Bay, but some shippers and international fliers do not.
Miller on Wednesday said the airport could increase revenue by attracting more traffic from private jet flights that originate outside the U.S. He said the airport is one of a limited number of facilities at which such planes could refuel and dispose of trash, which must be processed in a special incinerator not available at all airports. About 400 such flights visit the airport annually, Miller said.
He also said the cost of the name change would be minimal. The existing supply of stationery and business cards would be used until it ran out, then redesigned, and there would be no effort made to change highway signs pointing drivers to the airport.
The name change will go to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval, a process that will likely take six to nine months and has no cost. Miller has said the FAA will check to ensure that there is not another airport with a similar name, but doesn’t typically object to name changes.
The airport is on the Oneida Reservation in Ashwaubenon and Hobart.