This year, we want to take the occasional moment to reflect on an important milestone here at FSG. 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of our company’s founding, and when looking back over all those years some stories just beg to be told again.
In particular, we look forward to sharing stories that illuminate our values and speak to the culture we’ve spent four decades building. Step by step, one project at a time, we’re on the road to establishing an institution, the spirit of which can be found in stories like these.
So today we take you back to November 1992, to Corpus Christi, Texas, and to the dedication ceremony for the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay. For a young FSG branch operation just getting started, this was a high-profile lighting project that could help FSG Corpus Christi make the right kind of impression.
The USS Lexington
The story really starts with the fabled Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Lexington. The “Blue Ghost”, as the Japanese Imperial Navy grudgingly named her, played a critical role in numerous WW2 naval battles. Japanese Admirals and even Tokyo Rose herself referred to the Lexington as the Blue Ghost because she was incorrectly assumed to be destroyed and sunk on four different occasions, and because of the blue-gray color of the paint on her hull.
When her active battle days were over, the Lexington continued to serve as a training vessel for generations of naval aviators, based out of her home ports of San Diego, California, and later, Pensacola, Florida. Toward the end of her legendary 40-year career, the USS Lexington broke multiple naval records every time she sailed from port.
When the USS Lexington’s remarkable service career finally came to an end, there was no shortage of opinion about where the Blue Ghost should make her final home. With several communities and veterans groups making impassioned pleas to the US Navy, there was stiff competition for the honor.
Folks in Pensacola were sure the Lexington would be preserved and displayed there, where she had been based for so many years. Other groups in Alabama and Massachusetts also made a solid case for being the aircraft carrier’s rightful final home.
Corpus Christi Wins the Prize
In the end, Corpus Christi’s long and proud history with the US Navy and with naval aviation, matched with a winning presentation from the Corpus Christi Area Economic Development Commission, tipped the scale in favor of the Sparkling City by the Bay and the USS Lexington made one final trip, this time to the south Texas coast.
The Lexington arrived at her final berth at North Beach on June 17, 1992, and preparations began for the debut of the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay. Local residents were thrilled.
Early Dissension Among the Ranks
For Corpus Christi, winning the competition for the Lexington was a major source of excitement and the main driver of an upswell in civic pride. Not everyone was a fan of the Navy’s decision, however.
In particular, several veterans groups were quite vocal about their disappointment with the selection of Corpus Christi, chief among them a passionate organization known as the Blue Ghost Association. According to these folks, the Lexington should have stayed close to Pensacola, where the locals knew how to pay her the proper respect.
Administrators at the new USS Lexington Museum on the Bay understood that the pressure was on. They knew that on opening day they would hear from many among the gathered crowd who were looking especially hard to identify any shortcomings or missed cues.
The museum’s grand opening was also hugely important from a fundraising perspective, as the new museum was conceived to be totally self-sufficient, with no operating budget coming from government funds. Museum administrators really needed to win the continuing support of some of these less-than-supportive veterans groups.
For these reasons, there was more than a little pressure on local officials to do an incredible job convincing folks that Corpus Christi was the perfect final home for the USS Lexington. As such, when Jerry Chapman, the USS Lexington Museum Coordinator shook hands with FSG Corpus Christi branch manager Dave Thomas, it was one of those handshakes that hangs on for an extra moment or two, with lots of direct eye contact.
Lighting the Lex
On the strength of just a few completed projects out of FSG’s Corpus Christi branch, the first of which was for the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Dave Thomas won the external lighting contract for the new USS Lexington museum. Dave made the deal on the strength of an idea he had for the museum, one that just might win over the naysayers and grumblers.
The museum needed fantastic lighting. In fact, administrators were hoping to get some of that fabled “wow” factor. They needed something special, and Dave had just the plan in mind.
The idea was to bathe the aircraft carrier in blue light. Dave had just returned from a national lighting convention, and he pitched Jerry on a distinctive vision for the Lexington, based on blue metal halide lamps he had just seen at the show. Dave thought this new technology would be perfect for the museum.
With only pictures of the product and all the trust conveyed in the aforementioned handshake, Dave got the go-ahead to proceed with the blue light plan…only to learn soon after that the lights were not in stock, anywhere, in Texas or in neighboring states. Dave found himself in a bona fide “FSG Moment” when the particulars of a winning solution suddenly involve a measure of heroic creativity.
(Remember, this was 1992. The World Wide Web was just a baby, and the only websites in existence were connected to university research labs. There were no simple, fast, and convenient online lighting retailers like you can easily find today.)
With pressure mounting and time running out, Dave and his trusty sidekick Chris McRae – who had traveled south from San Antonio with Dave to open FSG’s first branch office – started working the phones. Eventually, the blue metal halide road led to Las Vegas, the only market in the country with those particular lamps in inventory.
Facing an intense looming deadline, Dave turned to UPS and their Sonic Air shipping option that piggybacked on Southwest Airlines flights and guaranteed 4-hour delivery anywhere in the lower 48 United States. With the right equipment finally in hand, Dave took off for the museum with just enough time to install the lamps and check out the system before the big day.
From “What the Hecks?” to Writing Checks
The facility was opened to the public in October 1992 and was officially dedicated in November during a formal ceremony attended by representatives of the city, state, and federal governments, as well as former crew members and members of numerous veterans organizations. At the end of the ceremony, as the sun set on Corpus Christi Bay, the big moment had finally arrived.
The blue metal halide lamps came on and washed the USS Lexington in a glow of haunting blue light, and everyone in attendance experienced the same “Wow!” moment. For members of the Blue Ghost Association and for anyone else who might have doubted Corpus Christi, this moment sealed the deal.
Local legend has it that when the lights came on, even the most hardened critics began reaching for their checkbooks to help support the fine, fine work being done in Corpus Christi.
FSG Corpus Christi
On February 1, 1992, Dave Thomas left his job in outside sales with FSG’s original San Antonio office to open FSG’s first branch location in Corpus Christi. Within a week of his arrival, Dave had managed to secure the branch’s first sale with the US Naval base in Corpus Christi.
Over the following months, the branch grew, adding new contracts and new staff including Billy McBroom, their first electrician, who is still on the team all these years later. Today, FSG Corpus Christi employs 86 full-time staff members, and many of its most important relationships in the local business community were established decades ago.
Some of FSG Corpus Christi’s stand-out projects include Whataburger Field, Veterans Memorial High School, Driscoll Children’s Hospital North Pavilion, the Texas State Aquarium – Caribbean Journey Expansion, and a recently completed electrical construction project for a major South Texas Plastics Manufacturing facility.
Lexington Blue – The Color of Hustle
At FSG, we understand why stories like this one naturally come up during major milestone celebrations like our 40th anniversary. The story Dave Thomas tells about the USS Lexington lighting project is inspirational for several reasons.
This is a story about hustle. This is a story about doing whatever it takes to get the job done right for our customers. This is a story about the spirit of delivering excellent service that promotes our customer’s success and sets deep roots within communities.
Opening a new branch in a new market can be a scary kind of fun, as Dave Thomas will tell you. But when you hustle and deliver success for your customers, all the wheels start turning in the right direction and slowly but surely you begin to get traction and establish a reputation for quality.
That’s what FSG’s Corpus Christi branch did, and that’s what FSG has been doing for 40 years now, in markets large and small all across the country.
And sometimes, on those special projects, all the gathered people say “Wow!” at the same time.
To learn more about FSG and everything we have learned over the last 40 years, visit our website. If you have a project and would like to speak to one of our lighting experts, call us at (877) 293-6689.