Local History #tbt Blog - Len Kahny and the Rosies Rise to the Occasion
When he retired from professional baseball in 1940, 29-year-old Len Kahny couldn’t foresee the day he would become part of a much bigger team, one that would fight and win “the largest armed conflict in human history.” (1)
But with America’s entry into World War II, the former Cincinnati Red and Durham Bulls baseball player became one of a team of thousands : the men and women laboring in industrial plants, producing whatever America’s fighting forces needed to defeat the enemy on land, at sea and in the air.
For the former ballplayer, the opportunity to be a part of America’s industrial fighting force materialized in Middletown, Ohio, at the Aeronautical Corporation of America (later known as Aeronca Aircraft Corporation and today as Magellan Aerospace). The company had long been known for its high-quality civilian light aircraft.
Kahny joined Aeronca in 1940. After working in the Receiving Department, he progressed through stock rooms to the position of administrative assistant and eventually plant superintendent. He also worked in sales. (2)
However, it wasn’t long before World War II upended the lives of citizens and their workplaces. Americans and industry adapted, changing production and employment systems to accommodate the needs of a nation at war.
Like his fellow Americans, Kahny adjusted to life in wartime. When Aeronca curtailed commercial sales in order to provide aircraft for war, he returned to the factory floor as assistant foreman and later as foreman, working on the final assembly of parts for the B-17, the PT-19 and PT-23 and C-46 aircraft. (2)
In this capacity Kahny oversaw the work of the local “Rosie the Riveters” who stepped up to perform the production jobs that were vacated when men were called into military service. (3)
The labor provided by the women was vital. In World War II, the aviation industry “saw the greatest increase in female workers,” according to the website, History, a product of the A+E network… “More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, making up 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce (compared to just 1 percent in the pre-war years).” (4)
The women were so important to the war effort that even today the moniker “Rosie the Riveter” commands respect. The name has been memorialized in a famous image of a determined female factory worker assuring Americans -- especially women -- that they were up to the job of supplying whatever the country needed in time of war. (5)
World War II impacted Kahny in another way, according to his daughter, Michaele Malkowicz. “Daddy was learning to fly just before Pearl Harbor put an end to civilian flying and everyone scrambled for the war effort,” she recalled. “He never did get a pilot’s license.”
After the war Aeronca resumed production of commercial aircraft. Kahny became manager of material control and gradually transferred to the procurement department. He retired as purchasing agent in 1975. (2)
For the gregarious Kahny, retirement wasn’t a retreat from the world. In fact, it was just the opposite. He welcomed the opportunity to do new things and to help people.
Ever industrious, Kahny took up picture framing to accommodate his wife Helen’s antique print collection. The hobby soon turned into a full-time venture and a craft he taught for many years at the Middletown Arts Center, where he also volunteered. In 1983 the couple helped form the Art Committee at Middletown Library (now MidPointe Library Middletown). Kahny also served as treasurer of the Friends of the Library. For the Kahnys, volunteering was a way of life. Mrs. Kahny passed away in 1988. (6)
Kahny continued the good work, age never preventing him from providing a public service. After 22 years as a volunteer driver for the local Red Cross, he reluctantly retired at the sprightly age of 98. His favorite volunteer position, he often said, was being assistant in the nursery of the local Oasis Church. He enjoyed remembering all the children who passed from his arms into the youth ministry. (6)
Kahny’s generous gift of time and talent to local organizations was acknowledged and appreciated.
On his 90th birthday in 2001 the Middletown Public Library Board of Trustees presented a plaque to Kahny, thanking him for “decades of service” combining “the highest standard of performance with an unparalleled sense of esthetics. ” (From family files).
In 2011 the Cincinnati Reds honored their former shortstop “for passing the 100-year-mark.” The club gave Kahny box seats to a game and displayed birthday greetings to him on the scoreboard. (7)
The centenarian’s generosity of spirit shown through upon receiving the honor. “I don’t expect a bash at the ballpark,” Kahny told Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Cliff Radel. “It’s Johnny Bench’s night.” He was referring to the unveiling of a statue of Bench, a Hall of Famer, prior to the game (7).
Looking back, it seemed only natural that Kahny would play ball for the Cincinnati Reds. A native of Cincinnati’s North End, he graduated from Hughes High School and in 1934 signed a contract to play shortstop with the team. Two years later he was a “hot prospect” and “swinging an autographed ‘Len Kahny’ Louisville Slugger bat. (6)
In 1936 Kahny played with the Durham Bulls in the North Carolina Piedmont League. It was also a banner year in his personal life : he married Helen Smith Hanner, a student nurse he had met while playing with the Mt. Airy Reds. (6) The Kahny family made their home in Middletown for many years.
Len Kahny died in November 2014 at the age of 103. All who were lucky to know him agreed he was a true man of all seasons.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. World War II (1939-1945)
2. Professional resume provided by family.
3. “Aeronca” brochure composed by MidPointe Library System accompanying Aeronca historical photo display at MidPointe Library Middletown.
4. “Rosies in the Workforce” (History, A+E Television Network)
6. Leonard John Kahny obituary (1911-2014) Journal-News November 23, 2014
7. “Reds call up 100-year-old SS” by Cliff Radel of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Article appears in the Kinston, N.C. Free Press available for viewing via the MidPointe Library website > eLibrary >Research databases > Browse L-P > Newspaper Archive > Kinston Free Press, September 17, 2011.
A photographic display celebrating Middletown, Ohio’s 78-year relationship with the aviation/aerospace industry will be available for viewing through September at MidPointe Library, Middletown. A companion exhibit on the library’s interactive touchscreen accompanies the exhibit.
The exhibits highlight the history of Aeronca, a longtime Middletown employer now known as Magellan Aerospace. They also recall the vital role that nearby Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field played in local aviation.
Visitors can find the display just by looking up to the ceiling. A model of the colorful Aeronca 7AC Champion plane is suspended above the library’s Local History and Genealogy Gallery. The 7AC was one of several popular, private-use planes produced in the post-war era at Aeronca-Middletown before the company became a leader in the aerospace industry.
The Aeronca photo and interactive exhibits will be available for viewing Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ; Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m.
MidPointe Library Middletown is located at 125 South Broad Street, Middletown.
“Aeronca, a Photo History” by Bob Hollenbaugh and John Houser and “Aeronca C-2, The Story of the Flying Bathtub” by Jay P. Spenser are available for reading in the Ohio Room adjacent to the Local History and Genealogy Gallery.