A one-of-a-kind attraction in Witt has a new home as of Monday, one that will allow it to be enjoyed for years to come.
The 1964 McDonnel-Douglas F4C Phantom that sat on the southern edge of Witt made the short trip to Nokomis on Saturday, Sept. 12, hitching a ride on a semi and flatbed courtesy of Hamlin and Jones Excavating.
On Monday, Sept. 14, it was set in place in Nokomis’ Memorial Park, which is dedicated to those who have served the United States of America in the military.
The plane was donated to the park by Dennis Hoehn, brother of the late owner, Mark Hoehn, who built the jet from the ground up with help from some friends.
The Vietnam War era fighter jet was in service from 1965 to 1985, before it was decommissioned and eventually sold for scrap. That’s where Hoehn stepped in, purchasing the plane and reconstructing it with master fabricator Dale Stolte, Sr., Dale Stolte, Jr., Chad Clingan and Rick Overla over the span of seven and a half months.
In July of 2017, the Phantom found it’s home outside of Witt and has been turning heads ever since.
According to Dennis’ wife, Kelly Hoehn, a lot of thought went into what to do with the jet. It landed, so to speak, at Memorial Park due to the family’s desire to keep it available to the public, in good condition and easily accessible to those who would like to see it. Those factors, along with the fact that Mark graduated from Nokomis High School in 1980 and that the park honors the military, made it an easier decision.
“He had lots of offers to buy it, but this way he knows it will be taken care of and will be somewhere people can still see it,” Hoehn said.
The jet, which has 90 percent of its instrument panel, but no engine or weaponry, will be put on display with the M3A3 tank and the French 75 cannon already in the park, which are being repainted according to Dennis Hoehn.
A 20-year veteran of the Illinois National Guard, Mark flew F4 and F16 fighter jets for the 183 Tactical Fighter Squadron before retiring in 2000. While he passed away on Aug. 7, 2019, he was fortunate enough to see his dream of owning a F4 Phantom come true and the joy that it brought others.
In May, Kelly Hoehn, a second grade teacher at Beckemeyer Elementary School in Hillsboro, recorded a video for the school’s daily greeting and highlighted the story of the jet. As the video came to a close, Hoehn used Mark’s story to inspire the Beckemeyer students, who were two months into the COVID-19 pandemic at the time.
“I hope you all keep learning, dreaming and like my brother-in-law Mark did, find a way to make your dreams happen.”