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If you're traveling on Route 165 in Preston this summer on a Sunday morning at about 8:30, give a wave to Frederick G. Herbert making his way to church at a good clip dressed in a suit, tie and light blue cap.
Herbert, 85, wants people to notice that he goes out of his way to walk the mile from the Preston Veterans' Memorial School to the Preston City Congregational Church every Sunday morning - in decent weather anyway. He used to walk two miles each way, but that has gotten a little too difficult in recent years.
Herbert lives on Old Jewett City Road and drives to the school, rather than directly to church, just to walk the rest of the way.
"When asked why I walk to church, I reply that I want to set a good example to the 60- and 70-year-old young whippersnappers who never exercise," Herbert said.
Herbert says he walks slowly, but he made quick work of that mile walk on a beautiful June morning, breathing only a little harder when he reached the intersection of Route 165 and 164.
"The hill gets steep as you get up to Route 164," he said. "I've noticed that it seems every year, the hill gets a little bit steeper."
In bad weather, Herbert will drive to church, but will get his walking done in other ways, traversing the aisles of grocery stores, Home Depot or Target without actually shopping. Or if he does need to shop, he'll park his shopping cart in one spot and will walk through the aisles to pick up a few items, walk back to the cart to deposit them and repeat the process.
At home one day Herbert discovered he no longer could reach his ceiling. His one-time 6-foot-1-inch frame had shrunk. So he started stretching, bending down to the floor and reaching for the ceiling again and again until he could reach the ceiling.
"You know, I can change my height," he said, although he no longer claims to be 6-1, just 6 feet or 6 ½ feet tall. He figures his stretching helps straighten out his vertebrate and gives him better posture too.
He paused for a moment during a recent walk to church at a quiet spot on Route 165, where birds and frogs and the gentle rustling of tree leaves could be heard. Herbert said he notices the energy of a place like this that makes him feel pleasant.
"I agree with these eastern sciences and yoga that there is a connection between the mind and the body," he said. "If you have an energized body you will have an energized mind."
A retired engineer - with a patent to his name for a method to scour bridge supports for safety inspections - a retired university administrative dean and Civilian Air Patrol pilot, Herbert still keeps his mind well exercised.
He noticed on walks to church several years ago that the Preston Revolutionary War monument had fallen into disrepair. The metal eagle atop the concrete monument was cracked and rusted, staining the pillar. The millstone base was crumbling. Herbert enlisted town officials, the Preston Historical Society and the VFW to restore the landmark. Now, he is proud to walk past the elegant monument and its surrounding park.
Herbert retired from flying in 2011, but loves aviation history. He lectures and writes on the topic. An article on Lindbergh's flight training was published by the American Aviation Historical Society. Another was published by a London magazine. "That makes me an internationally published author," he said.
And this year, Herbert tackled a topic closer to home, boldly dashing claims that Bridgeport's early aviation pioneer Gustave Whitehead beat the Wright brothers in flying the first airplane.
A bill packed with unrelated cultural items passed the General Assembly this spring honored Whitehead for "the first powered flight." But not true, Herbert argued in an article published by www.academia.edu. The Wright brothers have the proper claim to first flight over Whitehead and many other period flight experimenters, because they were the first to develop a flight control method still in use today, Herbert wrote.
"They all failed to produce a controllable flying machine," Herbert wrote of pre-Wright brothers attempts. "Whitehead's experiments also resulted in failure. He, like the others did not have an effective flight control system."
In between lectures, magazine articles, walks and stretching exercises, Herbert also is working on a book. He spent months learning how to create a website and conduct online research. He uses his website, www.fgherbert.com to post chapters of "Gill Robb Wilson, Charles Lindbergh and Hermann Goering, three pilots and the beginning of WWII."
Although he loves researching and writing about aviation history, Herbert found the writing process taxing. He turned that struggle into another published article. He joined the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association and submitted an article to its publication, "The Authority," on his difficulty with writing his first book.
"My problem was the English language," he said. "I really don't know the English language. I started out in engineering. Engineers speak jargon."