Jack Kessler's Big Idea

Dave Ghose
John Glenn speaks to the crowd gathered as the Columbus airport is renamed John Glenn International Airport.

How the civic power player executed the perfect John Glenn tribute

When Columbus' airport was renamed after John Glenn in late June, it was hard to imagine a person more deserving of the honor. That tribute, however, wouldn't have occurred without the guiding hand of another John. As he has for decades, New Albany Company Chairman John "Jack" Kessler-the city's ultimate relationship guy-worked his connections to execute an important civic change.

About a year ago, Kessler came up with the idea of honoring Glenn, his longtime friend. Port Columbus International Airport has always been a bit of a head-scratcher, grist for every hack comedian who comes through town to make fun of our land-locked city. Instead, why not name the airport after a national aviation hero with a personal connection to Columbus? "It made more sense to me than Port Columbus," Kessler says.

Still, an airport name change isn't exactly an easy thing to do, as Kessler would quickly discover. What he needed was an influential ally. He found that person in Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, an Air Force veteran whom Kessler knew was fond of both Glenn and his wife, Annie.

Though it was a bit unconventional for the legislature to initiate the change rather than the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, Rosenberger and his staff concluded it could be done. But time was short. It was early June, the last week before ?the General Assembly was to break for summer recess, when Kessler and Rosenberger snapped into action. Together, they moved fast, getting all the important stakeholders on board: Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther; John O'Grady, president of the Franklin County commissioners; Ohio Senate President Keith Faber; and Gov. John Kasich. They even made an 11th hour phone call to Glenn to make sure he welcomed the honor.

"I look at Jack as a mentor," Rosenberger says. "He looks at how he can make sure that Columbus is seen positively, and part of that is what his vision was with renaming Port Columbus, not only doing that but also honoring a very dear friend."