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Gerald Shea SHARKEY

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SHARKEY, Gerald Shea 71, the driving force behind Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, died at his home in Oakwood on Monday morning. During a 1980 visit to Boston's Freedom Trail, Sharkey was inspired to volunteer his time to develop an aviation version in Dayton. An unlikely aviation enthusiast because he feared flying, Sharkey enlisted his friend U.S. District Judge Walter Rice and other Dayton leaders including former Dayton Daily News Publisher Brad Tillson to link 45 aviation sites in the area into a national park. He personally purchased one of the Wright Brother's bicycle shops, 22 Williams Avenue, and tussled with the city of Dayton which had the area and the former bicycle shop scheduled for demolition. Quite dramatically, Sharkey once stood in the path of bulldozers to save the historic site. Dayton officials later became allies, and so did the neighbors who stood guard against vandalism as Sharkey and his band of volunteers painstakingly restored the dilapidated structure with their own hands. Tom D. Crouch, Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institute said: "Without Jerry, Wick Wright and Michael Gessel there would not be a Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. Wick provided the gravitas, the living presence of the Wright family and tradition; Gessel provided a mastery of the Hill and the government; Jerry supplied the passion. He was my first contact with the idea of a National Park. He worked tirelessly to build and maintain local support for the effort, and to coordinate everything from Congressional testimony to presentations to the Department of the Interior. He was such a key factor that I can't imagine how the project could have succeeded without his energy and enthusiasm." The first family supporter for the project was the Wright Brothers' niece Ivonnette Wright Miller and her husband Harold who fortuitously knew members of the Sharkey family. After Sharkey wrote her about his idea for Aviation Trail and a National Park, Miller responded, "We are very much interested in what you are doing and will be glad to support it in any way we can." That support proved to be critical. Sharkey worked tirelessly as a volunteer and served on the Dayton 2003 Board, Friends of the Wright Brothers and Paul Lawrence Dunbar Board, and helped lobby and raise money for the celebration of the first flight of the Wright Brothers. He was a 1960 graduate of Chaminade High School, he was a 1965 graduate of the University of Dayton, and was honored with a special alumnus award at UD for his civic work in Dayton. Sharkey was featured in University of Dayton Quarterly Magazine, which also noted that his Grandfather John C. Shea founded the University of Dayton Law School and his father Donald C. Sharkey won a UD Marianist award for his Catholic books and writings. Sharkey taught Algebra and other subjects at Alter and Carroll High Schools and was named "Teacher of the Year" at Carroll; he was the Administrator for the Montgomery County Home and community specialist for Montgomery County Human Services Department before his retirement. He was an avid day trader and spent hours on his computer playing competitive bridge. He was a tennis player, golfer, and season ticket holder for the Cincinnati Bengals who he predicted will win a Super Bowl "next year" because there is always a next year for Bengals' fans. He played in an informal golf league with long-time Dayton area buddies. His parents, Don and Martha (Shea) Sharkey, and brother, John Bryan, and Donald Cornelius Jr. preceded him in death. He is survived by his beloved wife Claire (Martin), son, Jeff and wife Michelle of Centerville; daughter, Elizabeth and husband Dr. Miguel Parilo of Centerville; and sons Kevin Bryan and Cory Donald, who both attend Ohio State University; three grandchildren, Bryan, Jennie and Daniel; two brothers, Nicholas of Northville, Michigan, and Joe Sharkey of Vandalia; and sister, Mary Anne Sharkey Dirck of Vermilion Township; aunt, Norma Sharkey; nieces and nephews; and many life-long friends. Visitation will be held Wednesday, April 9th from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at Westbrock Funeral Home, 1712 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Mass of Christian Burial, 12:00 p.m., Thursday, April 10th at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, Kettering. Burial will follow the Mass at Calvary Cemetery. www.westbrockfuneralhome.com

Published in Dayton Daily News on Apr. 8, 2014
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