Rockford man’s animatronic creations may make second career

Cory Ackerman thought life as he knew it was over when he was diagnosed with a debilitating brain tumor. He found a new way to apply his old skills when he volunteered to create animatronic props for an American Legion fundraiser.

Cory Ackerman thought life as he knew it was over when he was diagnosed with a debilitating brain tumor. He found a new way to apply his old skills when he volunteered to create animatronic props for an American Legion fundraiser.

Cory Ackerman used to work on robotics for a factory in Boston and traveled the United States as part of his job. A brain tumor ended that career and landed him back in his hometown of Rockford. A member of the Rockford American Legion Post, Ackerman heard about a party fundraiser the post planned for Halloween, and thought his old skills might be put to good use again.

“I’m pretty proud of it,” he said of the elaborate display the organization ended up with after Ackerman put his efforts to the task of creating floating ghosts, a leering, ship-steering skeleton captain, and a row of music-playing lighted skeletons. The creations were wicked-fantastic and amazed those who attended the pirate-themed night of food, music and entertainment.

Ackerman said he isn’t ready to go into business for himself yet with this new application of his former work skills, but the results of his work certainly make him eligible to be the special effects star of Rockford, should he decide to do so. Ackerman credited his father Gary with helping him get back to work on this project.

“I had time on my hands since I can’t work,” Ackerman said.

He said he started out offering to do one animatronic creation for the Legion, and wouldn’t accept any payment for his efforts. He found the wooden captain’s wheel and picked it up for just $1. He and his father built the other wooden parts of the pirate display and ordered the skeleton pieces. Knowing how robotics work was old hand for Ackerman, and he was happy with the results. “They showed me a flying ghost and I said, ‘I can do that, too.’ “ he said.

Visitors to the Legion’s second annual Halloween party and fundraiser for the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans were amazed by the displays, and few realized that they weren’t rented pieces, but the work of one member with time to share and a determination to do what he can.

“I am a little slower than I used to be,” Ackerman said of his abilities.

Following the success of his first venture in animatronics outside of a factory use, Ackerman said he is thinking about going into business for himself in a small way, creating animatronics to order for theme parties. Given his inaugural efforts, he may be well on his way to a brilliant future.

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