Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 12, 2014

RAY MOSCOWITZ: Former educator Jim Price taking flight at Grissom Air Museum

He's offering history that visitors want to learn and hopefully support.

MC Weekly

---- — Jim Price can be a funny guy in a droll way.

Asked whether he had any background in aviation when he became executive director of the Grissom Air Museum, Price responded: “I have flown on an airplane a few times. That is all of the aviation experience I have had prior to this position.”

But Jim Price is also an intelligent guy.

So it’s no surprise that since becoming executive director in January 2011 after being a consultant in October 2010, Price has gained a lot of aviation smarts. One gets the impression he’s been around flying for years.

In reality, though, Price’s background is in public education, the career path of his parents, James W. and Rosemary A. Price West, who were both educators.

Born in Elkhart and raised in Wabash, Price, 58, is the third of four children, the others being Jeff, 65, a Peru attorney; Jenni, 61, a professor at the University of Southern Indiana; and Janet, 55, a chemist for Roche Diagnostic.

Come March, the busiest time of the year will begin for Price, the museum’s only full-time employee. If the budget allows, Price said, the museum tries to hire a part-time employee.

The museum will be open every weekend, Friday through Sunday, until the end of November. The museum also will be open on Mondays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Tour groups can schedule outings any day of the week, Price said, adding that the hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “After hours” events can be scheduled after 6 p.m.

In my view, the museum, which attracted 14,500 visitors last year, is a real bargain, especially for families.

Here are the affordable admission prices:

• Patrons ages 21-54, $6.

• Patrons ages 6-20 and age 55 and older, $5.

• Military patrons, $4.

• Patrons age 5 and younger are admitted free.

Museum members do not pay an admission, and depending on an individual’s membership level, guests may be admitted for free.

But while admission prices aren’t a barrier, the museum faces one big challenge, according to Price: becoming relevant and maintaining relevance to people, supporters, businesses and other entities.

Which gets to the museum’s biggest conundrum.

“The number one problem we have and are trying to address is our mission statement,” Price says. “It is too broad; thus it causes us to try to do too much. This broadness also leads us to having too many artifacts as well as the effort to care for them. What do you collect and display versus what doesn’t fit your mission?”

The second biggest problem, Price says, is “relativity,” or how the museum makes itself into something people will want to experience.

“When you are trying to preserve history,” Price notes, “you must make that history exciting to your visitors so that you can raise the funds to maintain that history.

“I equate this to my experience as a school administrator. I must offer a state-driven curriculum that children want to learn and parents want to support. As the museum director, I offer a state and federal historical program that the guests must want to learn and support.”

Price sees the museum becoming a “go to” venue for outdoor events. He thinks there is a trend in the air museum becoming partners with other museums to create a “solid network of ‘go to’ places.”

Such a network has been a project for him since he arrived at GAM.

“I have great partners in this type of business, and I rely on them for a lot of my needs,” Price said. “I read a lot, and thanks to the profound resource known as the Internet, I can access all kinds of answers to my questions.”

One of Price’s major needs is — not surprisingly — funding. The museum raises money through admission fees, gift shop sales, membership dues, event fees, rental fees, asset sales, and donations. And this year, the museum received state funding through a grant that will be used for capital projects, such as the Air Park, grounds and facilities.

Asked what the museum’s five most important assets are, Price responds: “Our mission, our military aircraft, the history of our aircraft, our potential to be relevant for years to come, and our personal stories.”

There are 26 military craft and one international commuter plane at the museum, Price said.

Tied for being the most popular are the B-58 and B-17, Price added. They are followed by the KC-97, EC-135 and A-10.

Inside the museum, the most popular features are the F-4 cockpit and the G-1 cockpit. The most popular display is the B-17/305th bomb layout.

“We need to secure an F-94 ASAP,” Price says when asked about future acquisitions. “We want to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 319th Interceptor Squadron coming to the base, and the F-94 is their signature aircraft.

“I would also like to acquire a T-6 Texan, which was the second aircraft flown off of this base when the base was called the United States Naval Training Station at Bunker Hill.”

Asked what the biggest successes have been since he became executor director, Price said:

“Most of our successes are [through] stories our guests may share [with others], but we have had a few major successes that we played a role in: securing state funding, hosting the 100th anniversary for the Indiana Boys Scouts of America and the Latter Day Saints, [the] annual Warbird Cruise In-Car Show, [the] annual GUS Fly In Fundraiser for Down Syndrome of Indiana, [the] B-58 Greased Lightning’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, Grissom Air Museum’s Military Appreciation Weekend, and Ivy Tech Day at the GAM.”

Asked what the GAM’s economic impact is on Miami County, Price he has not been at the facility long enough to know. “I’m hoping to work on that data starting this year.”

So how does a guy with no experience in aviation become the executor director of an aviation museum?

“I was in the fundraising business when the museum board approached me for help,” Price says. “They had an interim director at the time and offered me the position. By accepting this position, I was, first of all, back into the administration world that I loved, and the challenge of learning something new intrigued me.”

After he graduated from Wabash High School, the administration world to which he refers took root at Ball State. He earned bachelor and master degrees in education/administration.

During his high school and college years, he got some real-world experience working in food-service and factory jobs.

At BSU, Price was active in politics as president of the freshman class and his dormitory, and he served in the Student Senate. He participated in football, basketball, volleyball and softball at the intramural level, and he was involved in radio, television and theater productions.

In 1976, he started his career in education as an elementary teacher and coach at Northern Community School in Tipton County.

Four years later, his connection to Miami County occurred, when he became an elementary teacher and coach at North Miami. After five years, in 1985, he moved to Huntington Community Schools, also as a teacher and coach.

His career in administration unfolded three years later, back in Miami County as principal at the former Holman Elementary. In 1998, he became assistant principal at North Miami Elementary.

Administrative positions followed at the Tipton Community Schools, where he served as a principal and in the central office for two years, and the Logansport Community Schools as a principal/teacher for five years.

Then it was back to the North Miami Community Schools in 1998 as an assistant principal.

By 2006, Price had had enough as an educator.

“[I] had difficulty implementing the No Child Left Behind Law as well as the ISTEP Test Program,” Price says frankly when asked why he decided to end a 30-year career in education.

In 2006, Price got into food service management, working for the nationwide YUM Corp. in Logansport for two years before going into public fundraising.

While he runs the museum, Price wants to grow his fundraising business.

At the same time, he will continue to devote lots of time to his family. Price is married to the former Robin Lynn Shively, 49, who is a medical assistant. They have four daughters. Lindsay, 25, is a social worker; Chelsea, 23, is a customer service representative, and fraternal twins Madyson and McKenzie, 19, are college students.

Price, who lives in Logansport, will also stay active in extra-curricular endeavors. His involvement includes membership in Rotary, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Scouting, the Chamber of Commerce, volunteer sports coaching, community food drives, Public Access Television and Public Radio Productions, and the PTA.

The Prices attend the First Methodist Church in Logansport.

Price’s interests are in line with the life he has led. Asked how he spends his leisure time, he replied: “Reading, coaching, cooking, walking, politics, volunteering, sports.”

And maybe he’ll get more aviation experience.

“I do want to fly in a hot air balloon," he says.

Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at r.mosco@comcast.net.