Packard Proving Grounds looks to fund new sign

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 4, 2016

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Since the nonprofit Packard Motor Car Foundation acquired the approximately 14-acre historic Packard Proving Grounds in 2002, it has sought to erect a sign in front so visitors can find the grounds more easily.

“We could never get together on what it should look like or consist of, or the size and everything,” foundation Treasurer Bruce Blevins said.

When longtime member Gene Ledbetter, 73, of Novi, died in December and his wife, Judy, requested donations to the foundation in lieu of flowers, the foundation received about $9,000 in his memory, Blevins said.

Ledbetter was a good friend of Blevins and well-known in local automobile circles as a gentle, kind Packard enthusiast, so Blevins said he wanted to honor Ledbetter with a fitting tribute.

In January, Packard Proving Grounds volunteers and foundation members came up with an idea for a sign dedicated to Ledbetter at the entrance to the grounds.

Since the buildings are set quite a distance back from the easement along Van Dyke Avenue, between 22 Mile and 23 Mile roads, motorists sometimes have a difficult time locating the Packard Proving Grounds, said Events Coordinator Mary Anne Demo.

“We are so excited to have the opportunity to get a sign out front,” Demo said. “It will make a huge difference for guests attending events on-site. Plus, we can get word out about upcoming events and even congratulate our wedding couples.”

Demo said interest in events and weddings at the refurbished repair garage has grown exponentially — nearly every weekend for 2016 is booked — and that all profits benefit the restoration of the historic buildings and grounds.

The proposed sign, Blevins said, would feature an LED screen, fieldstone columns to match the walls surrounding the compound, and the signature Packard yoke that appears on the grill of each Packard vehicle.

Blevins said a brass plaque would be commissioned to dedicate the sign to Ledbetter.

“He was a great friend to most of the people at the Packard Proving Grounds,” Blevins said. “He always had a hug for everybody. He always had a smile and a mild, friendly demeanor, and he owned an automobile restoration business.”

An actual-size replica of the sign, made out of foam board, currently is in place near the proposed location of the sign, along with a thermometer marking the foundation’s fundraising progress.

Blevins said the township gave the foundation permission to keep the temporary sign up through August, and by then, he expects to have a more solid idea of the finished product. He said a set date for construction and implementation has not yet been determined.

Out of the estimated $30,000 required to purchase the sign, Blevins said at press time that the community had so far raised approximately $12,500.

Demo said the Shelby Community Foundation kicked off the fundraiser with a $500 grant, and several individuals have donated through an online fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/PPG-RoadSign.

“People have been putting in smaller amounts that way,” she said. “It’s a really nice way that everybody can feel a part of it.”

Demo said donations also can be dropped off at the Packard Proving Grounds, 49965 Van Dyke Ave.

For more information about the Packard Proving Grounds or its sign, call (586) 739-4800, visit www.gofundme.com/PPG-RoadSign or send an email to maryannedemo@gmail.com. For more information about the Packard Motor Car Foundation or the history of the Packard Proving Grounds, visit www.packardmotorfdn.org.

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