Amelia Earhart en route: Sculpture to memorialize aviatrix's Brownsville connection

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Few places have a legitimate claim to the legacy of legendary aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, though Brownsville is one such place.

Earhart, who disappeared with navigator Fred Noonan somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937 during an around-the-world flight attempt, earned her commercial pilot's license here in March 1929. For the flight test, she borrowed a plane from Brownsville's first airport director, Les Mauldin. Earhart was in town for festivities surrounding Charles Lindbergh's first U.S. air mail flight, from Brownsville to Mexico City.

The year before, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Thanks to the nonprofit Dean Porter Park Renovation Inc. (DPPR) committee, she'll soon will be memorialized with a life-sized sculpture, with the official unveiling scheduled for April 9 at the park. Created by Utah-based sculptor Gary Lee Price in 2018, the piece is 72 inches long and 52 inches tall, depicting Earhart in vintage flight gear relaxing on a park bench, gazing skyward with a happy expression, leather helmet and goggles hanging on the bench.

Inscribed in the sculpture is this Earhart quote: "Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?"

Price also created the Dean Porter's "Circle of Peace" sculpture, installed in May 2022. The following July, DPPR President Mellena Conner visited a gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, to personally meet the people who had helped get the "Circle of Peace" sculpture to Brownsville. She'd been there less than 10 minutes when Price himself happened to walk in the door.

"I almost fell over," Conner said.

She told Price — a well known sculptor with 12 life-sized bronze pieces in the Hong Kong Central Library — about Brownsville acquiring "Circle of Peace," then went outside to view some of his other sculptures on display, among them the Earhart.

"It was sad that Brownsville hasn't ever had much acknowledgment much of her," Conner said. "I looked at that and I thought, we could bring that."

Back in Brownsville, she made some calls, enlisting three other nonprofit groups to help make it happen: the Brownsville Historical Association, the Commemorative Air Force, and the Children's Museum of Brownsville. But they needed money. Appeals to the Raul Tijerina Jr. Foundation and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation raised the $51,900 needed for the sculpture, plus $3,000 to get it delivered Utah.

Building on that, DPPR has put together the Advocates for Amelia campaign, engaging schools, museums, art leagues and other nonprofits, to create activities, presentations or classroom lessons to help spread awareness of Earhart's accomplishments. A schedule of events is being developed, according to organizers. Conner said 25 or 30 entities have signed up so far.

Earhart herself refuses to fade into history, in part because of her achievements and in part due to the enduring mystery of her disappearance nearly 87 years ago. Conner thinks young people will still be fascinated and inspired by her even today.

"That's the premise we're working on," she said. "We want everybody to be an Amelia Earhart advocate. She always felt like women should be able to do anything a man could do."

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