Pa.'s Connellsville Airport New Name May Be Erased

Connellsville officials and historians are calling for a review of the Fayette County Airport Authority's decision to rename Connellsville Airport in honor of benefactor Joseph Hardy.

Board members voted 4-0 to call the 88-year-old Dunbar Township facility Joseph A. Hardy Regional Airport. Hardy is a county commissioner and founder of 84 Lumber Co.

Mayor Judy Reed called the move "disrespectful of the past."

One board member, Myrna Giannopoulos, abstained from voting, citing the historical significance of the Connellsville Airport name.

"There has been talk of renaming the airport for a while," board member Todd Radolec said Wednesday. "Since it was on the table for so long, and because it was discussed previously, I was shocked to see there's so much attention at this point.

"From my perspective, I think what has been done is proper."

The vote was taken Saturday during a special meeting. That evening, an artist's rendition of the airport terminal featuring the new name was presented to Hardy at his 84th birthday party.

Hardy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"There is a 1966 deed, and a corrective deed dated 1995, from Connellsville to the authority, and I don't see anything putting the authority on notice of a restriction from naming the airport," authority Solicitor Mark Rowan said.

Hardy has financially backed the airport through several expansion projects, including the construction of a new terminal and runway extensions.

To thwart the change, Reed said she is trying to uncover documents that cite an agreement between Connellsville and Fayette County that restricts the power of the authority to remove "Connellsville" from the airport's name.

"We're trying to see what we can produce," Reed said. "I don't think anything was done intentionally to violate the agreement, but the authority will find out that 'Connellsville' must absolutely stay in the name of that airport."

The airport was first known as Bennett Field, according to historical records of the Daily Courier newspaper. In 1919, Connellsville businessmen Roy Windell and John Hanke based an air delivery service there.

The airfield was improved by the city in 1928, likely because of the post-Lindbergh aviation boom.

In May 1936, Connellsville and Fayette County agreed to build an airport through the federal Works Progress Administration.

The 214-acre tract cost $15,000, with Fayette County paying 75 percent and Connellsville paying 25 percent.

Eventually, the U.S. government contributed more than $1 million because Connellsville Airport was viewed as a strategic defense position during World War II.

On Dec. 1, 1941, the military assumed control of the airport, and expanded and upgraded the facilities for more than four years.

"I was extremely shocked and surprised (to hear of the name change)," said Karen Hechler, president of Connellsville Area Historical Society. "I had no idea. I mean, I think many people had no idea this was coming.

"I hate to see anything that deals with Connellsville history being eliminated. We should be encouraging Connellsville's contributions to Fayette County. No detriment to Mr. Hardy, but it's a shame to erase the history of this airport."

The authority has a regular monthly meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the airport.

"We're trying to do this in a logical way," Reed said. "We want to find the documents and present them to the board. The board has to show respect for the history, and the creation and development of the airport. I'm sure something can be worked out."

Even if Reed produces documents showing an agreement between the city and county, Rowan is confident the change is binding.

"A lot of people misunderstand the relationship between the county and the airport authority," he said. "The authority is not a branch of Fayette County government, it is a commonwealth agency under the Municipal Authorities Act.

"Even if an agreement between the city and county exists, the authority is not a party to that agreement."

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