Local candy makers partner to honor Tuskegee Airmen
Two local candy makers are teaming up to help fund construction of a permanent monument to World War II's Tuskegee Airmen.
Dorothy's Candies in White Oak and McKeesport-based website Candy Favorites are selling Tuskegee Gold solid chocolate bars to benefit the planned Tuskegee Airmen Memorial in Sewickley.
Candy Favorites, which is the Internet retail operation of McKeesport Candy Co., recently began selling the Dorothy's Candies-produced Tuskegee Gold.
"They're selling like hot cakes," Candy Favorites owner and president Jon H. Prince said. "We featured them in a mailing we sent out last week, which went to 60,000 people."
"He is going to help us reach a bigger audience," Dorothy's Candies owner Marti Gastel said.
Cost is $28.95 for a gold box of five solid chocolate bars in special wrappers that show the Tuskegee Airmen's achievements. The box has a replica of the Congressional Medal of Honor that the Tuskegee Airmen received on March 29, 2007, from President George W. Bush.
"We introduced them last year for the first time," Gastel said. "There's been a lot of interest. We received a wonderful letter from a gentleman in Georgia whose father was a Tuskegee Airman. It really has been bringing the story to a lot of people who weren't aware, especially with the movie 'Red Tails' that came out."
Prince spoke highly of Dorothy's Candies.
"We love her chocolates," he said. "They're of the highest quality. We're one of the largest online candy companies in world. We're going to use that leverage to share an amazing story of American history."
Prince said he recently learned that McKeesport's Dr. Harry Lanauze was a Tuskegee Airman, giving the city a special connection with the iconic squadron.
Gastel began selling the commemorative chocolates after she received a phone call from her friend Rege Bobonis, who is senior vice president of Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society of Sewickley.
Bobonis was the principal investigator of a study that showed that 79 Tuskegee Airmen came from Western Pennsylvania, the largest contingency from any region.
"Sewickley made history in our study," he said. "We found seven Tuskegee Airmen came from this postage stamp-sized community."
Groundbreaking for the memorial at Sewickley Cemetery was Oct. 4 of last year.
"We plan to begin construction on March 7, 2012," Bobonis said. "That's the 70th anniversary of the graduation of first five Tuskegee Airmen pilots."
He said one of those five men was Col. George Roberts of London, W.Va.
"Roberts is very special to us," Bobonis said. "He was a skillful pilot in training. So they named him commanding officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron."
He said Roberts' widow and daughter plan to come to the memorial's dedication.
"Our goal is to raise roughly $100,000 between now and March 7," Bobonis said. "Our cash in hand is $40,000 from pledges. Overall, the project will cost $178,000."
He said the historical society hasn't yet quantified how much Dorothy's Candies has given to the fund so far.
"A substantial amount of money has come in, thanks to the goodwill of Dorothy's Candies," Bobonis said.
The main contractors on the project are Rome Monuments of Rochester and Rock of Ages Corp. in Graniteville, Vt. Bobonis said the contractors told him the monument will take 60-70 days to complete.
"Has the 'Red Tails' movie helped?" Bobonis said. "You bet. Donations have risen since that movie came out. We're grateful to George Lucas."
Tuskegee Gold candy bars can be purchased at Dorothy's Candies, 1228 Long Run Road in White Oak, or online at www.candyfavorites.com . Donations to the monument can be sent to Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, P.O. Box 183, Sewickley, 15143.
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