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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Councilman backs adding Thomas' name to airport

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Thomas Thomas
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A local radio broadcast team is proposing that the name of Toledo-raised actor-comedian Danny Thomas be added to that of Toledo Express Airport, and have found a champion in City Council President Rob Ludeman.

Gary Shores and Harvey J. Steele, co-hosts of the morning show on WKKO-FM (99.9), say it is Thomas' founding of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, rather than his Hollywood fame, that justifies naming the airport in his honor.

Mr. Ludeman said that, based on support the airport idea got from the radio station's listeners in a "Do More for Danny" campaign, along with favorable letters from a Thomas relative and the head of St. Jude, he expects to draft legislation within a few weeks to send to council.

"I grew up watching Danny Thomas on TV, and it was always made known that his hometown was Toledo, Ohio," Mr. Ludeman said. "But the humanitarian effort with St. Jude was larger than life. It will live on with children from everywhere."

The airport idea is the product of a campaign the broadcasters started to increase Thomas' recognition in Toledo, where today only a small park in the south end is named after him. At the Memphis hospital, both said, Danny Thomas memorabilia abounds.

WKKO-FM disc jockeys Harvey J. Steele, left, and Gary Shores want Toledo to more widely recognize Toledo-raised Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children s Research Hospital.
WKKO-FM disc jockeys Harvey J. Steele, left, and Gary Shores want Toledo to more widely recognize Toledo-raised Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children s Research Hospital.
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"You can't turn anywhere in that complex without seeing his face, or a bust, or something like that. It includes a lot of pictures of him in his hometown," Mr. Steele said yesterday. "But in Toledo, there's very little. In some ways, this is typical Toledo: we just don't give ourselves enough credit."

Other suggestions that the pair received from listeners or from an online poll conducted by Russ Lemmon, The Blade's media writer, included naming I-280, Greenbelt Parkway, Broadway, Summit Street, SeaGate Centre, or a proposed new indoor sports arena in Thomas' honor.

"The more we heard 'airport,' the more it occurred to us that that would be a place where Toledo's visitors would also see it," Mr. Shores said.

While Thomas' decision to establish St. Jude in Memphis instead of Toledo still rankles some, the broadcasters both said that cancer research done there benefits children everywhere and noted that families who can't afford the hospital's medical care are treated charitably.

"It didn't happen to be founded in the city of Toledo, but it was founded by somebody from the city of Toledo," said Mr. Steele, describing Thomas as "one of the world's great humanitarians."

"There are a lot of things in Toledo that are named for people who have never set foot in Toledo. If you go down to St. Jude, you'll see Toledo stuff everywhere," he said.

Most airports named after individuals recognize political figures, but some are named in honor of people from the worlds of art, letters, or entertainment.

In the United States, those include Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport; Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, and John Wayne International Airport in Orange County, California.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority manages Toledo Express under a lease from the city, and port authority President James Hartung said it is the city's prerogative to name the facility.

Nadeem Salem, chairman of the port authority's airport committee and, like Thomas, of Lebanese descent, said he would want to know more about the proposal, but "it sounds like an exciting idea."

Born Amos Jacobs in Deerfield, Mich., Thomas was raised in what was then the "Little Syria" section of North Toledo. He dropped out of Woodward High School as a junior to pursue show business and adopted his stage name in 1940 after landing a job in Chicago in 1940.

He gained national fame during the 1950s as star of the television program Make Room for Daddy.

In an autobiography, Thomas defended choosing Memphis for the hospital, which specializes in treating children with leukemia, because he wanted it to be "somewhere there are a lot of poor children, both black and white."

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan gave Thomas the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1989, two years before his death of a heart attack, the then-Medical College of Ohio conferred an honorary doctorate in human letters.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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