High pitched squeals and the howl of jets was a part of the environment for Kirsten Bergin, growing up in Northbrook with the Glenview Naval Air Station just a few miles away. Like many other residents, Bergin never gave it much thought.
But that changed in 2009, when Bergin took her father-in-law, a former naval officer, on a visit to a museum devoted to the former base, which closed in 1995. The air station operated since 1937 and was the Navy's primary flight training center during World War II, with between 17,000 and 18,000 pilots, including former President George H.W. Bush, qualifying for carrier landings on two converted Lake Michigan passenger steamers.
The 1,100 acres of the base have since been filled by The Glen development and The Glen Town Center.
"I was blown away by the importance of it, and the contrast between its history and the humble nature of the museum," said Bergin, a mother of two children who now lives with her family in Glenview.
The 1,000-square-foot museum has been located in an industrial park in Glenview at 2040 Lehigh Ave. since 2006, displaying various artifacts, photographs and other material connected to the history of the Naval Air Station. Some of the bigger artifacts include an aircraft engine, which takes up the center of the space inside, and a coastal guard helicopter nestled in a corner of the museum's backyard.
Glenview Hangar One Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the museum, has been collecting hundreds of other artifacts and aircraft models over the past years. But many of them are in storage. Some end up being sold, with the permission of the owners.
"I was embarrassed," Bergin said. "It seemed wrong."
So Bergin set out to help make sure the history of the base gets remembered. Thus, Bring It Home, Glenview, was created more than a year ago. The group consists of several residents in the community, mostly mothers with children, who have been trying incorporate the air station's local history into educational programs.
Those efforts resulted in two pilot sessions the group hosted with the help of Glenview Park District earlier this fall. The one-time classes, called "Jr. Flight Academy — Lake Michigan Carriers," taught about 30 third- to fifth-graders about aviation and the importance of the Glenview Naval Air Station during World War II and the Cold War through interactive activities, such as flying paper planes and building aircraft carrier models with Legos. A small part of the registration fee was also donated to Hangar One Foundation.
Glenview resident Jessica Abraham, 9, came to one of the two sessions with her friend Megan Dietrich, 9, in early October. They said they enjoyed learning about the Naval Air Station.
"It's fun to learn what pilots do," said Jessica, as she constructed an aircraft carrier model with wooden and Lego pieces.
"We were thrilled with how engaged the children were," said Bergin, who hosted the classes along with other members of Bring It Home.
Bergin said the group is excited to expand the program, adding that the next three classes about the Glenview Naval Air Station's history are scheduled for Jan. 24, Jan. 31 and Feb. 7.
But the ultimate goal of Bring It Home is to bring one of the restored U.S. Navy planes from the depths of Lake Michigan back to Glenview for a display. To do that, the group hopes to help Glenview Hangar One Foundation raise funds to build its own museum. The donations from the two classes the group held in fall are meager, but they're a start, Bergin said.
Bill Marquardt, president of the Glenview Hangar One foundation, said the new museum would cost more than $5 million, and the nonprofit so far has raised a few thousand of dollars over the years.
Raising the money and finding the right piece of land has not been easy. The nonprofit, which includes about 200 community members, veterans and history buffs, is run by volunteers and has to pay between $25,000 and $28,000 per year just to keep its space, Marquardt said.
But the organization is hopeful.
This fall the nonprofit connected with a nonprofit lender and real estate consultant that will help the foundation, Marquardt said.
"Our next step is to have a formal plan," Marquardt said.
Chuck Downey, 89, a retired Navy captain who trained at the air station, said he would be delighted to see a museum dedicated to the history of the base.
"It was a big part of my life," Downey. He spent about 14 years at the base, training and serving in reserves during World War II and the Cold War.
Downey, who now lives in Florida, was one of the youngest Naval aviators of World War II.
"It's a wishful dream at the moment," Downey said.