George and Jim Rooney accepting their awards,
pictured with Ben Koether and Captain Phil Porter.
WESTPORT - Supporters of the Glacier Society and former
shipmates of the USS Glacier, a U.S. Navy polar exploration ship,
attended a party in Westport on Saturday afternoon at the home of
Ben Koether, the founder of the society.
Koether served as navigator on the ship when it was the first vessel
to penetrate the Bellinghausen Sea near Antarctica in 1960. The
ship made 29 trips to the South Pole and 10 trips to the North Pole
before it was decommissioned in 1987.
During a reunion held in 1997, Koether was convinced by his former
shipmates to restore the ship and he founded the Glacier Society
for that purpose.
Nearly two and a half years later, with approximately 160 volunteers
working on the project, the ship, which is in California, is well
on its way to again being seaworthy.
"If we had all the money that's needed, the ship could be done
in 15 months," said Koether. He said it would cost an additional
$5 million to complete the project.
Koether announced to the crowd during Saturday's party that the
agreement between the society and the U.S. Department of Transportation,
which still legally owns the ship, to transfer ownership to the
society should be signed in June.
"We'll then take the ship off the government mooring it's on and
move it to a pier," said Koether, adding that the society is still
searching for a pier in the San Francisco area to dock the ship.
"It will make it a lot easier to complete the work once it's at
Jim and George Rooney, two brothers who volunteered countless hours
to the renovation effort, were given an award for their service
during the event.
"It's a lot of fun," said George, who was an electrician on the
ship during its Navy service. "It brings back a lot of memories
and a lot of knowledge I thought I had forgotten."
The society is also in the possession of three boats associated
with the Glacier, two lifeboats that were recently acquired and
a 40-foot survey boat called the Ice Bucket. The Ice Bucket is currently
docked at the Compo Beach marina, but the society is looking for
"Our agreement with the marina is running out," said Koether. "We
are hoping to find another location for it soon."
Phil Porter, former captain of the Glacier, attended the party
on Saturday at Koether's home.
"I'm astonished at all that Ben's been able to accomplish," he
said. "It takes a lot of dedication."
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