Rhinelander Oneida County Airport unveils Packers ‘hall of fame’
Spars Collection of Packer memorabilia presented to the city
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
A local Green Bay Packer fan’s memorabilia collection was unveiled as a permanent display at the Rhinelander Oneida County Airport Thursday. The ceremony was the culmination of months of discussion and planning, but collector Bill Spars’ story began decades ago.
“I was an avid fan of the Packers, Vince Lombardi especially, and all the Packers that he drafted or traded for,” said Spars, who decided to donate his memorabilia to the city after getting to know former Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns. Spars tried out for the Packers in the ’65-’66 era. He didn’t make the team, but he did make friends.
“I knew that these ball players would not be around forever and I wanted to remember them,” Spars said. “They were all my friends, guys like Bob Long, Bobby Jeter, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and that’s how it all started.”
People involved in the project, from businesses that donated money to those who built the cabinetry, added the lighting and curated the displays, as well as Packer fans gathered in the airport terminal to catch a glimpse of the finished product.
“We’re grateful that he did all this,” said Bob Thompson of Rhinelander. “Where else would you see a display like this? At the Hall of Fame?”
For some, the displays brought back wonderful memories.
“I remember as a kid sitting on the couch in high school watching some of the playoffs and the Super Bowls with Vince as coach,” Jim Long recalled. “And my dad – dad’s been gone a long time, but man, this thing brings back memories of players, good times. It’s wonderful. More people need to see it.”
Bill Spars and his wife Pat couldn’t agree more.
“I love it,” said Pat. “It’s more than what I expected. We wanted to bring the memories of the old players and never let them be forgotten because they were his friends and we hope that one day they will come up and see it.”
Airport director Matthew Leitner said the collection will add to the beauty and aesthetics of the terminal.
“There’s an arch over an entrance to Yellowstone National Park that reads, ‘For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,’ and that’s exactly what this is…and we’re very proud of it and we’re very grateful.”
Printpack, Ripco Credit Union and Bob and June Heck contributed donations to make the collection possible. The exhibit is free and open to the public.