THE BLOG
10/28/2016 10:31 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2017

A Place To Call Home: Our Pan Am Museum

It's been 25 years since the demise of Pan American World Airways, but the Pan Am "family" endures. As proof, a core group of dedicated and enthusiastic former employees of the airline is working hard to create a permanent historical and educational institution -a Pan Am museum that we can all call "home."

The newly founded Pan Am Museum Foundation (www.thepanammuseum.org) is building an initial Pan Am Exhibit to be launched in a dedicated Pan Am area at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York
(www.cradleofaviation.org). The Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, seeks to protect and archive Pan Am's artifacts, and to illustrate the significant achievements of the airline. Most importantly, the museum will tell the stories of the former Pan Am employees to help memorialize one of the most beloved companies of all time.

On December 3, 2016 the Inaugural Clipper Gala will celebrate the first phase of the Pan Am Exhibit, "The Boeing 314". It promises to be an exciting evening, with a cocktail hour and silent auction in the Museum Exhibit Hall, and then a sit-down dinner under the stars in the Museum Atrium. The Pan Am Museum Foundation invites and welcomes everyone to attend the inaugural Clipper Gala, including our "kissin' cousins" from our fellow airlines. Also invited are aviation enthusiasts of all stripes, and anyone who has an interest in The Golden Age of Aviation.

The history of Pan Am is the most dramatic untold story of the Twentieth Century, full of joy and romance, heartbreak and tragedy, and we are all waiting for someone (like Ken Burns) to do it justice. Until then, many of us want to make sure that our memorabilia, stories, photographs, and artifacts have a "home" in which to be shared and enjoyed.

Let me introduce you to people who feel the way I do, and give them the opportunity to tell in their own words what they are doing to secure Pan Am's history. Their stories reflect both the joy and trauma associated with being part of the Pan Am family.

Linda Freire: Co-Chair

Starting out her career as a flight attendant, Linda moved from supervisor to manager, and at the end became the Base Manager JFK Flight Service.

Linda states, "The sights I saw, the experiences traveling the world, most people don't even know to dream about them, and I had a front row seat." The amazing opportunities within Pan Am for adventurous people were unparalleled within the aviation industry, and the sense of camaraderie among the employees had no equal. That was the joyful part.

But there were also many tragic events. Just one of the major traumas that Pan Am and its employees sustained was the disastrous downing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Linda was in the JFK terminal the night Pan Am learned the plane was off radar: "I was there when the parents of the Syracuse University students learned of the downing of the flight. I saw the mother of one student fall to the ground in overwhelming pain and grief and there was nothing any of us could do for her, nothing we could do to help her."

Linda continues, "Having been promoted to Base Manager JFK Flight Service, I had the dubious and sad duty of turning off the lights in the office on the very last day and locking the door for the last time in 1991. I will never forget the feeling I had that night, a feeling so raw and emotional, it haunts me still today. I could not leave that night even though I knew I had to return to start my new job the next morning with Delta. I stayed in my car parked atop the World Port and cried. For those of us there at the end, this night was like a death." She then went on to work for Delta for 13 years.

Now retired from Delta, Linda was thrilled when she learned about the Museum. "It feels like this project has been my destiny from the beginning...it was like a rebirth, a second chance to once again 'work' with Pan Am. I was so happy to be able to put Pan Am on the business card. It was a little thing, but it meant so much."

Joanne Swift: Co-Chair

Joanne Swift flew for Pan Am for twenty years and trained flight attendants at various times. She also served as President of World Wings International, the worldwide charitable organization of former Pan Am flight attendants.

Joanne feels that besides her immediate family, it was working for Pan Am for twenty years that contributed the most to who she is today. She says, "The unique experiences, opportunities, life-long friends, knowledge of the world around me and my place in it is all because I was a Pan Am flight attendant. I know I'm not alone. It's a shared experience among the many who were employed by Pan Am and a story that we want to share with others."

As I've said, the feeling of joy at having worked at Pan Am is often accompanied by sadness as well. Joanne trained flight attendants in Miami, and knew the crew of flight attendants from India who were on Pan Am flight 73 in September of 1986. There was an aborted hijack attempt in Karachi, during which the heroic Pan Am flight attendants, especially Neerja Bhanot, saved 359 passengers. This year (2016), Neerja, a dramatic and very poignant Bollywood movie was released telling the true story of the event. Neerja sacrificed her life to save her passengers. Joanne sobbed when she saw the movie.

Andrea M. Sidor, Secretary & Treasurer

Luckily for the Foundation, Andrea Sidor was a paralegal for 24 years doing legal and accounting work for non-profits, trusts and estates, "and had the skills to get us up and running quickly." She had flown for Pan Am from 1978 to 1990.

When asked what Pan Am means to her, Andrea replied,
"I took every opportunity to travel on my personal time, soaking up as much of Europe as I could and expanding my knowledge of the world. I thrived on the freedom and adventure Pan Am offered me, and I had found my rhythm of life."

In conclusion, Andrea says, "My lifestyle was thrilling, fun, and never boring, and I loved it. And lastly, Pan Am gave me a family that extends around the world."

John A. Marshall, Director Flight Operation Outreach

At the age of ten years old, John Marshall was taken to the airport in San Francisco by a Pan Am captain, the father of a friend of his, to see Pan Am close up. For the rest of his life, John has been "hooked" on Pan Am. When he became a Pan Am pilot, "I wore the uniform with pride and satisfaction, and loved it when small boys followed me around the terminal. As time has gone by, Pan Am has never left me, and it is a part of who I am. We were a family."

He continues, "I have written extensively about my Pan Am career, and about the airline's glorious history. Its legacy cannot be left to wither and disappear."

In Captain Marshall's story, "Death of A Grand Lady," he poignantly describes the painful last flight of all Pan Am clippers worldwide (a trip from Sao Paulo to New York). This was after having heard only hours before that Delta Airlines was suddenly pulling out of the deal to support the New Pan Am.

"And so it was over. What the future would hold for all of us none could foresee, only that this chapter was closed. We had had a grand run, dancing with one of the grand ladies of the industry. Growing gracefully beautiful in her middle age when we met, she had moved with stately grace even as she grew older. We waltzed happily together into her sunset years, and it was only later that she showed the lines and ravages of age and neglect. None of us will ever forget her."

Kelly Cusack, Director of Acquisitions and Curation

Anyone who knows Kelly Cusack is aware of his enduring passion for Pan Am. He comes by it quite naturally. About his father, who'd lived all over the world, Kelly says, "He was sort of the original Pan Am Frequent Flyer."

Kelly continues, "Working for Pan Am was a way of reproducing what my parents gave me. Between 1962 and 1972, we lived in Italy, France, Turkey, and Australia. There was only one way to have that again. And there was something about the magical history of Pan Am. You know, they show you the films about the seaplanes and Stratocruisers, and it was magical.

Frustrated by the lack of action by organizations in creating a Pan Am Museum, Kelly created his own "everythingpanam" web site, and sub-branded it "The Virtual Pan Am Museum." Kelly has amassed a collection of over 12,000 authentic Pan Am pieces, and is thrilled at the prospect that there will be an actual home for these treasures. He says, "Building this museum is my way of giving back and ensuring the memory of what we did and who we are is never forgotten."

Phillip P. Keene, Director of Communications

Phillip Keene is our success story in the entertainment industry! Playing the character of Buzz Watson on two different television series - "The Closer" and "Major Crimes"-- Phillip has been a well known working actor for over 10 years. However, despite the glamour and notoriety of his new life, Phillip continues to feel a deep identification with Pan Am.

As an out-of-work waiter almost 30 years ago, Phillip had "no dreams of glory; no fantasies about the future." That is, until he saw an ad for Pan Am flight attendants that would change his life.

After joining Pan Am, Phillip says, "I didn't have a new job; I had a new identity, one which I embraced with both arms. Instead of chips and salsa, I was serving champagne and caviar. Instead of jeans and an apron, I was wearing a uniform with an emblem recognized in nearly every major city on earth. And as I got to know the different people with whom I flew, I began to feel incredibly proud and protective of Pan Am's place in history."

He continues, "On December 4th, 1991, when Pan Am announced its bankruptcy, part of my soul seemed to perish with it. It was with unbearable sadness I put away my uniform, boxed away the little mementos I had salvaged, folded up the ad that had led me above the clouds, and allowed myself to fall back to earth."

Phillip states, "With the advent of eBay, I found my past was being auctioned on line! Travel posters, dishes, menus, decks of cards, cocktail napkins, uniforms from every era of Pan Am's history were suddenly for sale. I began collecting these relics with the passionate desire of a middle-aged man in search of his youth."

"The boy who never dared to dream now cannot stop imagining a museum that presents and preserves the unique influence Pan Am exercised over the twentieth century, and how its inspirational vision still motivates us today."

Joan M. Benham
Director, Strategic Planning

The sudden announcement by Delta in 1991 that they were not going to fund the "New Pan Am" as promised, a smaller airline made up of steadfast Pan Am employees that was to be based in Miami and fly only to South America, left what remained of Pan Am in shambles. Everything immediately shut down. Sixty-four years of extraordinary Pan Am records, history, memorabilia, and photographs were piled into a warehouse in New Jersey, where dedicated Pan Amers worked for no money to save the most valuable items.

Joan worked at Pan Am from 1969 to 1995. She stayed for four years after Pan Am went out of business, working for the Pan Am Trustee selling assets, winding down marketing programs, recouping corporate funds from international locations and negotiating with governmental and legal entities to have all liens and attachments removed.

Joan says, "When Pan Am ceased operations, I ended up doing lots of things, including selling Pan Am memorabilia, with our historical artifacts going to the University of Miami. It was immediately obvious that this sale would cut off access to all artifacts Pan Am had collected during its great history from those of us who had lived and loved Pan Am."

Joan continues, "Even though there were collectors, like Kelly Cusack, who continued to amass Pan Am artifacts for the sheer joy of owning a part of Pan Am's history, it did not seem possible that much would come of these collections. However, now with the launch of the Pan Am Museum Foundation, the Pan Am story will be told again."

Will A. Alveno, Director Marketing & Donor Relations

Born into poverty in El Salvador, Will came to the United States after the war in his country in the mid 1980's, and soon after, applied to Pan Am. Now, here's the amazing thing: Will is an albino with very limited vision - in fact, he's legally blind. So who would imagine that, at the age of 24, he'd become the youngest reservations supervisor in the history of Pan Am, in a job that required 20/20 vision, typing skills, and excellent command of the English language?

Will says, "I learned close to 100 different technologies, tools, software, systems and automation that equipped me enough to start a life as an IT Independent Consultant after Pan Am closed in 1991."

He continues, "I can say however that my most fond memory is of one person - Hannah Ford (Reservations Center Manager). She was loved by everyone for being a firm, just, and approachable manager. She would tease me calling me her 'son' - that's how proud she felt for having mentored me in every aspect of the work, duties and tasks at this very important hub of operations for Pan Am."

"When Delta took over Pan Am, Hannah and I did not go with Delta and took unemployment. We took on the task to help everyone else that had not found a job to help find one or give work references as needed. On March 24, 1992, I informed her that I'd found a job and she also had the same news for me. We talked on the phone at length on how we will part ways and maybe see each other once in a while. She died later that day."

"Since then", Will states, "I have made it a goal of mine to honor Pan Am and especially Hannah Ford with a tribute that will highlight the contributions of this airline and all individuals like Hannah who made a big difference for all of those who worked for the 'World's Most Experienced Airline'."

It's stories like these, which are only a few among many hundreds of similar tales, that help explain the love and enduring commitment that former Pan Am employees have for the airline. Now, luckily, we have this new Museum that will keep the memory of Pan Am alive for generations to come.

If you would like to participate, you can visit the website www.thepanammuseum.org to learn more about the Foundation.