All the planning and hard work is almost done. Soon a replica of an iconic part of Avon Lake’s history will be on display, created by Nick Zangas as part of his quest to become an Eagle Scout.
Nick, 17, and his father, John Zangas, recently talked about the project. The elder Zangas is scoutmaster for Avon Lake Boy Scouts of America Troop 338. Nick’s project is to re-create a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s famous plane the Spirit of St. Louis that was a landmark in Avon Lake for some 70 years.
Lindbergh made his historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. The Coca-Cola Co. produced 145 small-scale replicas — weather vanes, actually — of Lindbergh’s plane to honor the aviator and as advertising for the Cleveland-based Canfield Oil Co.’s gas stations. The replicas were placed at Canfield stations throughout Ohio, said Avon Lake Historical Society (formerly Heritage Avon Lake) President Tony Tomanek.
One plane sat in front of a Canfield station near the Avon Lake-Bay Village border. The service station, owned by Ted Kekic, was on Lake Road near what longtime Avon Lake residents might remember as Stop 43 on the Lake Shore Electric Railway, Tomanek said. The service station sat about ⅛ of a mile from the Bay Village border, he added.
The replica plane at Kekic’s shop had a propeller and turned in the wind. Local legend said it was stolen sometime in the mid-1990s, which is about the time the station was demolished, Nick said. The Avon Lake plane was the last survivor among the Spirit of St. Louis replicas. Ted Kekic’s descendants recently told Tomanek the plane was not stolen but sold to a collector when the service station was razed. The Kekic family does not know the plane’s current location — if it still exists. A private residence is on the site of the former service station.
Efforts to replace the replica have been ongoing for about three years, Tomanek said. Both he and Nick talked about the historical society reaching out to the would-be Eagle Scout about taking on the project. Enter Nick, who not only needed a project but also has a love of aeronautics. He plans to major in aerospace engineering after graduating next year from Lakewood’s St. Edward High School.
Nick insists, however, his interest in the Lindbergh project had little to do with the plane itself. A desire to connect with his hometown’s past and taking on the hardest project he could find is what really grabbed his attention, he said.
About a year’s worth of effort is about to pay off. A dedication ceremony honoring placement of Nick’s replica in Miller Road Park is planned for Aug. 15.
Nick used photos of the original replica provided by the historical society to help ensure the accuracy of his reproduction, which began as a wooden model. Avon Lake firm Northern HammerWorks covered the wooden frame with sheet metal. The company also will attach a propeller, one of the last tasks needed to complete the replica.
“It’s just about finished,” Nick said. His replica has “Stop 43” painted on the tail with “T. Kekic” in all capital letters on the plane’s fuselage.
In addition to HammerWorks, Avon Lake Sheet Metal (which donated the materials used by HammerWorks) and Grassa’s Body Repair, LTD, of Avon (which painted the plane), are among local businesses helping with the project, said John Zangas. The total value of donated materials and time put into the replica probably adds up to about $10,000, he added. Nick arranged for those donations almost entirely on his own, his father said.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” Nick said of the various donations. In addition to securing that help, Nick needed to gain the permission of Avon Lake City Council to place the sign in the municipal lakefront park. The final vote was 6-1.
“I think people want to see the plane come back,” Nick said.
The replica is 8 to 10 feet long with a roughly 6-foot wingspan and will sit on a pole somewhere between 12 and 15 feet off the ground. Cementing that pole in place in Miller Road Park is the next big step in completing the project. The timing of that work is weather dependent, Nick said.
A boulder with a plaque telling the sign’s story is to be placed near the replica.
Nick’s father, an Eagle Scout himself, talked him into trying for scouting’s highest honor, although the son added he didn’t need a lot of convincing.
“My dad told me if you don’t do it, it will end up being something you regret not doing,” Nick said.
The elder Zangas’s Eagle Scout project was doing a door-to-door food donation drive in his native St. Louis. The tradition continues to this day, Zangas said.
“Needless to say, I’m very proud of my son,” he said.
Contact this reporter at email@example.com or 440-871-5797.