By Rhonda Mix


POPLAR GROVE – The Poplar Grove Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum, located at 5151 Orth Road, attracts visitors from all over the world.

Dedicated to pre-World War II transportation history, the museum sits on land attached to the Poplar Grove Airport.

It features several early 20th century airplane hangars and automotive garages as well as a number of plane and automobile displays – that are updated several times per year – for people to admire.

The museum showcases transportation through the years and reveals how time and innovation have changed the way people get around. Items on display include donated pieces as well as those on long-term or short-term loan.

Poplar exhibits have included a 1930 Model A Ford mail truck, donated by Gordie and Nada Geddes of Poplar Grove; a 16-foot bronze statute of early aviation pioneer Elrey B. Jeppesen, acquired with funds donated from Jack and Peggy Wolf, Belvidere; and a 1931 American Eagles Airplane donated by Gene Morris of Texas, which was Reserve Grand Champion at the 1976 Experimental Aircraft Association convention held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

According to documentation provided by the museum, in 1997, a group of people with shared interests in vintage aviation created the Poplar Grove Aviation Education Association. It was then that the idea for the Poplar Grove Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum was also born.

The PGAEA developed into a nonprofit organization focused on preserving early transportation artifacts, while promoting education about transportation fields, with an emphasis on aviation and automotive industries. The organization is funded through memberships, corporate sponsorships and donations.

After the creation of the PGAEA, Poplar Grove Airport then donated 12 acres on the north side of its property to the group for the museum. The organization soon acquired the Stone Works Progress Administration Building – otherwise known as the Waukesha Hangar – which currently houses the  exhibits and an office.

One interesting fact about the building? It is dubbed the Waukesha Hangar because it was originally built on the Waukesha County Airport near Milwaukee, in 1937. The original building was allegedly a big part of Midwestern aviation history, with more than 2,300 people, including most living airmail pilots, attending its 1938 dedication.

Saved from a fate of demolition, the building was carefully taken apart and moved to its new location in Poplar Grove. There it was reconstructed, using original metal beams, trusses, and ceilings –  and structured to match the original floor plan.

The Poplar Grove Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum and the PGAEA strive to preserve history and educate people.

A number of fundraisers and outreach programs, including field trips, summer camps, lectures and a scholarship program, are offered throughout the year.

“We bring the community together,” said Trudy Konopka, museum events coordinator. “We are not just for those who are extremely passionate about aviation, but we are also for people and viewers with casual interests in aviation as well.”

Every year, the association provides thousands of dollars in scholarship money to help people who are pursuing certifications or degrees in aviation and automotive industries.

Programs on-site include the Youth Exploring Aviation Program, open to young people between the ages of 15 and 21. This program includes hands-on work in the restoration of a 1941 Areonca aircraft; teaches classes relating to the theory of flight and introduction to flight; and allows kids to meet and work with professional pilots, take field trips and participate in museum events.

An active EAA chapter also is based on the north side of the museum and sponsors a program called Young Eagle Airplane Rides, for youth between the ages of 8 and 17.

A number of events and fundraisers take place at the museum or airport grounds throughout the year. Portions of money from these events also fuel scholarships and outreach programs.

One such event is the annual Murder Mystery Dinner, which will take place at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at the Waukesha Hangar.

The event will feature catered food, an interactive dinner theater performance by the museum’s Vintage Players, raffles and more.

“Guests are welcome to come in costume,” Konopka said. “This year we are doing a 1950s theme. It is a one-of-a-kind theater. People may have been to dinner theaters before, but this one is kind of special.”

Tickets to the dinner are limited.

The museum is open Monday through Friday, and the first Saturday and second Sunday of each month, from May through October.

For information, admission fees and a full list of upcoming events, visit  poplargrovewingsandwheels.com or call (815) 547-3115.

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