Maybe New London will see a Coast Guard museum sooner rather than later

The prospect of a new Coast Guard Museum being built in New London has been kicking around so long, unfulfilled, that it is easy to imagine it will never happen.

It's sort of like Route 11. How many generations will come and go in southeastern Connecticut before that highway ever gets finished?

But I have some new optimism that a Coast Guard museum might actually be on track, just around the corner, in fact.

I base this on reports I've heard that Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., who has about two years left in his term, wants to get this done.

Papp, a native of Norwich, might also harbor enough nostalgia for southeastern Connecticut that he might want to finally make a New London Coast Guard museum a reality.

I got an even better feeling about this after an interview recently with Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, who confirmed that Papp is indeed focused on moving along the long-stalled Coast Guard museum.

Papp, a history buff, was also behind some recent curriculum changes that introduced a new course at the academy on the history of the service.

"He is passionate about having a museum progress forward on his watch," Stosz said.

The academy superintendent didn't have any headline-making news on the project when we spoke. She said a review of possible locations in New London is under way, as has already been reported.

The commandant making a museum a priority should be especially promising for New London Mayor Daryl Finizio. Just choosing an official site and setting a timetable would be a most welcome development for his administration.

In fact, the mayor ought to go up to the academy and offer to polish some brass or coil some rope.

Stosz said that the mayor has been up to the school a lot lately for various events.

The academy superintendent also did not disclose much in the way of news about the Coast Guard's interest in expanding in New London, saying only that talks on that subject between her staff and the mayor's staff are continuing.

She suggested no surprises are on the near horizon.

The funding for the academy's purchase of a part of Riverside Park is no longer available, she said, and that particular moment, when things seemed promising for a park sale, seems to have passed.

"The stars seemed to align before," she said. "Time will tell whether we can re-engage on that. I don't want to rule anything out."

It is not only encouraging for New London that Commandant Papp is intent on moving along a Coast Guard museum but also that the academy has a superintendent focused not just on her school but on the larger community.

In our interview, Stosz made it clear that she knows well a large cast of significant characters in the community, everyone from Mayor Finizio and the New London superintendent of schools to the presidents of Mitchell College and Connecticut College.

A member of one of the first classes at the academy to admit women, Stosz chose New London as her legal residence when she graduated and has been voting in municipal elections ever since.

(She admitted to voting for the sale of a part of Riverside Park last fall, but politely declined to reveal the rest of her vote.)

Stosz said college presidents can choose to focus inwardly or outwardly.

"I have taken it upon myself to do that outreach, to seize the opportunity to do that," she said.

Stosz said she has always thought she could beat the title of being the first woman - among the first women to graduate from the academy, the first woman to command an icebreaking cutter and now the first woman superintendent of the academy.

"But I haven't been able to outrun it," she said.

She tries when she can to turn the attention instead to the cadets, whom she likes to refer to as the future of America. She says the cadet corps is more representative of the culture at large than ever before, with, on her watch, the academy's first openly gay students.

Maybe someday some of these firsts and changes in the Coast Guard will be told more fully in a New London Coast Guard museum.

This is the opinion of David Collins


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