As a child, Jeffrey Simpson lived in the shadow of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. His boyhood home was located just beyond the base’s landing zone, with planes frequently flying overhead.

Today, the base sits eerily quiet. Gone is the hum of plane engines. The massive runways lie dormant. And, the control tower beacon signal has been turned off, shut down by the government’s decision to close the air station completely in 2011.

To pay tribute to the base and its place in local history, Simpson and his former classmates from Mount Ararat High School’s Class of 1980 plan to mint a special commemorative coin that will also help raise funds for their alumni’s 30th reunion this summer.

The idea is based on similar coins Simpson had seen sold at past Great State of Maine Air Shows, held during many summers at the base over the years. The shows with the Blue Angels Navy flight demonstration squadron, drew massive crowds of spectators to the area – among them Simpson and school mates Donna Flint and Terri Herard.

Herard often viewed those shows from her grandmother’s Harpswell home. She said the coin campaign is an effective way to raise funds for future class endeavors while honoring the memories of the base. Nearly three quarters of her childhood school mates were from Navy families stationed there. And most of them have moved away.

Simpson, Herard and Morin are part of a team that helped to design the  commemorative token. One side of the coin is embossed with the base’s initials and the phrase “Celebrating 68 Years of Aviation Excellence.” The other side features “End of and Era – 1943-2011.”
A state of Maine map, an eagle and a Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft also are featured on the coin, that is about the size of a half dollar.

“I’ve purchased many of them to give as gifts for my father, family and friends,” said Herard. “And, one for an elderly man who lives nearby who used to be in the Navy. He collects coins and he always talks to me about the air shows we used to have.”
Morin said the coin sales have been more successful than she’d anticipated.

“At first we weren’t sure how many to order,” said Morin. “We had ordered 900 previously and now we have 300 more on order. The manufacturer told us it’s the biggest order they have ever gotten.”

Alumni Sharon Giroux Panek of Brunswick also bought several coins as gifts, noting the tradition among military personnel to exchange coins.

“I mailed them to our friends around the world as gifts at Christmas,” said Giroux, a Navy wife. “I received many phone calls saying that they were the best gifts they received. These coins are well done.”

Donna Morin agreed.

“A lot of older veterans and their families have bought them,” she said. “We’ve gotten lots positive feedback. (The coins) offer a good way to evoke memories for people – something tangible for them to remember the base and all that it stood for.”

As the base’s May 2011 closure date looms, the coins are likely to make a good collector’s item. Though Simpson said, “We’ll keep making them as long as people want to purchase them. This is not just a fundraiser for our class. We’re also doing this as a service to the community. It’s our small way of helping them adjust to the closure.”

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: [email protected]