McCombie dedicates new bridge in honor of Savanna grad, astronaut Dale Gardener
State Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) finally saw her efforts to honor U.S. Navy Captain Dale Gardner, a Savanna High School alum who rose through the ranks of the U.S. space program, fulfilled with the recent dedication of a new bridge in his honor.
McCombie joined Gov. Bruce Rauner and several of Gardner's family members at a ceremony last month dedicating the Dale Gardner Veterans Memorial Bridge, according to the Clinton Herald. The new $80 million bridge replaces the old Savanna-Sabula Bridge.
Last May, McCombie made an impassioned please to her colleagues in the state legislature to adopt a resolution renaming the bridge. The connection was personal for McCombie, whose parents were Gardner's classmates at Savanna High.
“Dale Gardner was many things throughout his life, and I’ve been hearing stories and seeing plaques about him during my time growing up in Savanna,” McCombie said at a May 26, 2017 House floor debate.
Gardner received top academic honors when he graduated from Savanna High School, according to his bio on the Johnson Space Center’s website. After earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1970, Gardner plotted his course as a member of the U.S. Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School in Florida.
Just one year after earning his college degree, Gardner was awarded his naval flight officer wings on May 5, 1971.
“He graduated from basic Navy flight officer training school with the highest academic average ever achieved in the history of the squadron," McCombie said.
By 1978, he had earned a spot as an astronaut candidate, working at the Johnson Space Center.
His skills and intelligence qualified him as a behind-the-scenes man for the Space Shuttle’s first mission in 1981, where he managed software development for the craft’s onboard computers.
However, he was not merely a bystander to the shuttle missions, eventually logging 337 hours in space with 225 orbits around the Earth, McCombie said.
His eight years of NASA service led to a stint at the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, where he retired in 1990 as a captain before serving in the space and defense industries.
In 2013, he retired from his private-sector career after a decade spent serving as the associate director for renewable fuels science and technology at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
“Dale was obviously a very smart and giving man, and he received many awards and recognition of his service,” McCombie said.