The Wichita City Council should act Tuesday to rename Wichita Mid-Continent Airport after Dwight D. Eisenhower, timed to the 2015 opening of the $101.5 million terminal. It’s a “great idea,” as former Sen. Bob Dole has said, and a fitting way for Kansas’ largest city to honor a Kansan of unparalleled distinction.
The City Council appointed a naming committee to respond to last fall’s petition drive led by Jan Harrison and Phil Thompson of KFXJ, 104.5 FM “the Fox.” That panel now recommends the name “Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.”
The out-of-pocket expense is now a manageable $141,500 (down from the initial inflated estimate of $750,000). On the question of whether Eisenhower “made a significant contribution to the city” and has “been primarily responsible for the existence or well-being of the facility,” as the city’s naming policy requires: The committee points to the profound impact on the local economy of Eisenhower’s deployment of Wichita-built military aircraft and role in creating the interstate highway system, as well as to Eisenhower’s 1953 redesignation of the old Municipal Airport as an Air Force base and the resulting construction of the current airport.
It’s important not to oversell such a rechristening. The promotional and economic value of a name change alone is likely to be modest at best. It’s the first-class, state-of-the-art terminal that will attract attention while better serving carriers and travelers and making a far better first impression on potential employers.
But Wichitans have let more than half a century go by without showing official esteem for the nation’s 34th president. Meanwhile, other communities and states have shown they “like Ike” by putting the former Kansan’s name on highway projects, halls, parks and more; the work also continues on a national Eisenhower memorial in Washington, D.C.
And Eisenhower’s reputation keeps growing – as a defender of freedom during wartime, of course, while he served as supreme commander of the Allied forces during World War II, but also as a president who fostered prosperity, peace and civil rights while demonstrating fiscal discipline. Over his two terms, when Democrats mostly controlled Congress, the Republican president’s approval rating averaged 64 percent. That, too, looks better and better in hindsight.
While visiting Wichita in 1957, Eisenhower spoke of the “satisfaction I feel in returning once again to the state where I was privileged to spend my boyhood and to grow to manhood.”
The new terminal presents a prime chance to look back in gratitude to Eisenhower while shedding that ho-hum “Mid-Continent” – a 1970s hand-me-down from Kansas City, Mo. Even talking about the renaming has seemed like a nice change – a too-rare opportunity to think positively about Wichita and its bright future.
Now, while taking care to explain their votes to citizens who remain unconvinced, City Council members should make the name change official.