Congressman Turner to Aviation Hall: ‘Cease’ talk of selling artifacts

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner has sent a letter to the National Aviation Hall of Fame demanding the non-profit “cease and desist” any consideration of selling artifacts to raise money.

Turner, R-Dayton, said he was approached by five Hall of Fame Board of Trustees members whom he declined to identify Wednesday with concerns about consideration of selling donated artifacts from enshrinees and contributors.

The congressman said he learned of the allegation after his office last month launched a congressional inquiry into the finances of the nonprofit, which has struggled financially struggled for years and was near closure at least once, according to Turner.

“There are a number of artifacts that apparently the Aviation Hall of Fame has received from enshrinees,” the congressman said, adding later: “We’re not aware of any artifacts that have been sold. We’re hoping that our effort to stop the discussion or decision making on selling them might prevent any sale. But that certainly is one of the questions that we’re going to have for them. Have they sold any artifacts in the past, and if so, where did they go?”

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Turner sent a Feb. 1 letter to NAHF board chairman William R. Harris Jr., outlining his concerns. “While the financial situation in which the NAHF finds itself is deeply troubling, selling or disposing of NAHF artifacts is simply unacceptable,” Turner wrote, demanding the organization “cease and desist” any consideration of sellling or disposing of artifacts.

Messages seeking a response were left Wednesday for Harris, NAHF executive director Amy Spowart, NAHF enshrinement director Ron Kaplan and other board members. A spokeswoman said Harris was out of the office this week.

Donald I. VanDerKarr, who said he has been a NAHF board member for 35 years, said Wednesday he had no knowledge of discussions to sell artifacts and was unaware what artifacts the Hall of Fame has. The National Aviation Hall of Fame has a wall showing portraits of enshrinees and a few exhibits at its Learning Center location inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

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“I can’t imagine that board members would have been passing information on that subject because there’s nothing that we’re seeing that I’m aware of,” the 88-year-old retired Air Force colonel said.

VanDerKarr, of Beavercreek, was one of two board members who signed a letter asking Harris to allow Turner to proceed with an investigation into the finances of the congressionally chartered nonprofit organization.

“He requested that I do that,” VanDerKarr said. “I didn’t think it was an issue at all. I just felt if the congressman was interested and approached the chairman that he could look at the financials.”

Turner has requested a swath of records as part of his investigation into the organization’s finances. GuideStar records, which tracks nonprofits’ financial data, reported the Hall of Fame has lost money for several years. In 2015, for example, the Hall reported a loss of $188,457 on expenses of $655,032 and revenue of $466,576.

“The National Aviation Hall of Fame has had great financial difficulty that we’ve tried to help them with over the past several years,” Turner said Wednesday. “Our congressional investigation is about trying to learn where they’re spending their money, what their expenses are and how we might be able to help them for long-term viability and sustainability.”

The organization has said its financial records are “an open book” and added it’s received “outstanding ratings” from the Better Business Bureau and GuideStar. NAHF also said in a statement this week it has “complete confidence” in audits of the organization and its financial advisers.

In December, the NAHF chose to move an enshrinement dinner for one year to Fort Worth, Texas, breaking a decades-old tradition of hosting the event in Dayton. The ceremony, which brought aerospace legends to Dayton for decades, was staged in the region every year since it started in 1962.

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