From OTOW to Iceland

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Local resident returns to help maintain chapel

By Rog Patterson

By Rog Patterson
Special to the Citizen


How is the immediate past president of Friendship Kiwanis club in Ocala, Florida, connected with tidying up a little chapel just off the runways of a former NATO Naval Air Station in Iceland?
Although the U.S. Army Air Force ceased controlling the Early Warning system when the Naval Air Station Kaflavik was closed, a small chapel still stood in 2000 to be a reminder for residents of nearby capital city, Reykjavik, during the country’s millennium celebration of 1,000 years as a Christian nation. Eleven years later, it now looks better than ever thanks to volunteers who appreciate the building and look after it.
Built in 1953, it served as the office for quality control engineers during USAF’s Early Warning radar facilities construction. When no longer needed for that function, it was converted into a chapel for base personnel. But, as soon as the radar was activated, it became apparent the building was obstructing system performance. Choosing to relocate rather than demolish the chapel, site personnel volunteers built a new foundation and a contractor donated use of their cranes to complete move number one in 1956.
The base fire department donated a chapel bell in 1958 which is still in use today. So, when Early Warning operations were shut down in 1988, it seemed natural when base firemen volunteered to relocate the chapel again; this time to their NAS Fire & Emergency Services base of operations, where it stands today. The chapel stays open and available to firemen to relax during their 24-hour shifts. But, by that time, the building was in need of serious restoration.
Back to our original question. Following his retirement from 31 years of active duty in the USAF, On Top of the World resident Allen J. Clement, was hired for a Navy job in support of crews improving military and civilian facilities all over Iceland. The Naval Air Station was one of these projects, enabling Clements to become familiar with the firemen’s little chapel.
A.J., as Clements prefers to be called, joined the local BRU Kiwanis club in 1983. In Icelandic, brú means “bridge”. With 30 to over 60 members from Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Netherlands and United States, as well as Icelanders, the acronym BRU was also intended to mean Build Richer Understanding between nations, or bridge between nations. To read more about BRU, initiated in 1973 by Icelandic and German Kiwanis clubs, take a look at www.geocities.ws/NapaValley/2523/kiwlinka.htm.
The BRU Kiwanians contributed to their Icelandic neighbors in many ways and, during A.J.’s term as club president, BRU learned the firemen’s reserve funds for repairing the chapel had run out. According to A.J.’s recollections, “BRU donated money to the chapel restoration, also worked with base contractors getting them to donate materials such as new windows and doors, as well as provided manpower to help restore the chapel.”
When the NAS Kaflavik was closed in 2006 and only international airport facilities continued civilian operations, the international membership of BRU Kiwanis club also disbanded. However, A.J.’s wife, Petra, is a native Icelander and they often return as visitors. So A.J. completes the connection, saying, “We were back in Iceland during 2010 on vacation and my fireman friends approached me to help out in re-painting the chapel. As you can see in the pictures, it was great fun to help restore the chapel one more time.”