Ghosts of Main Street: Ghosts above the Ground

January 10, 2019

By Julie Traynor
Correspondent

From time to time the ghost of the Marion Airport raises up to let us know that although it may be gone it is not completely forgotten.

Technically, the Marion Airport was not on Main Street or even located within Marion Twp., and yet in many ways it was. The Marion High Pointe Flying Association was formed in 1946 with the objective of building a local airport. The association was the brain-child and pet project of Harry Willet, local physician, licensed pilot and plane owner. He appealed to other flying enthusiasts and before long the association formed.

The membership was comprised of Marion area men, many returning veterans of WWII who held flying as a common interest. The founding membership numbered twenty-five. The association was more than likely an idea born among friends at one of the local restaurants. Many such things in our history came to life in one kind of watering hole or another.

Other officers and members of the group (including business associations) were Dr. Willet, President; Max Sneary, Michigan Gas Storage-Secretary, Milo (Mike) Jenkins, Phillips 66 dealer -Treasurer, Walt Richardson-Airport Manager and George Berry, Pure Oil -Superintendent of Construction.

Claude Sadler, Marion Press editor; Pete Jenema, local John Deere dealer; Omer Hall, Real Estate and Insurance, Forrest (Diz) Martin, Sun Theater owner and Frank Berry Jr., Marion Dry Cleaners, manned other work committees. The membership paid dues and aggressively raised funds, hosting a number of events and receiving the support of the community.

This photo taken about 1947 is of Jack Nevins standing with the Piper Cub which belonged to the Lame Duck Squadron. Apologies for the quality of this photo. Jack’s step dad Bernie Schumacher, carried it in his wallet for many years. Bernie was a member of both the association and the club and received his pilot’s license at the Marion Airport. At the same time he was the manager of the airport and its operating license was issued to him as well.  My apologies...at press time I still cannot locate the license. Bernie’s granddaughter proudly displays his pilot’s license.  

This photo taken about 1947 is of Jack Nevins standing with the Piper Cub which belonged to the Lame Duck Squadron. Apologies for the quality of this photo. Jack’s step dad Bernie Schumacher, carried it in his wallet for many years. Bernie was a member of both the association and the club and received his pilot’s license at the Marion Airport. At the same time he was the manager of the airport and its operating license was issued to him as well. 
My apologies…at press time I still cannot locate the license. Bernie’s granddaughter proudly displays his pilot’s license.

The flying club leased 130 acres with an option to buy from John Hesselink located four miles due west of the Village in Highland Twp., not far from the Middle Branch River. They cleared and leveled the former potato fields, then graded and graveled two runways. One, approaching 2,000 feet, ran southwest to northeast. The shorter, and less frequently used runway, ran north and south. Eventually, two corrugated metal hangars were constructed, one for Doc Willet’s plane and the other for Mike Jenkins.

By the spring of 1947 the club had established a first rate local airport. A number of Association members formed the Lame Duck Squadron Flying Club, with Burton Brown (in business with his brother Skinny) as president. They purchased a Piper Cub and members began taking lessons. Pete Daugherty, proprietor of the Sinclair, was the only licensed pilot at the onset. With incentives from the Federal Government for returning service men under the G.I. Bill, a flight instructor from the Evart Municipal Airport visited the facility three times a week to instruct a number of local flyers.

Such was the short but sweet history of the Marion Airport, the High Pointe Flying Association and the Lame Duck Squadron. There seems to be little documentation or anyone who recalls exactly why the airport came to an end. The answer heard most frequently was that the local fliers simply got busy with life. Some of the former soldiers became husbands and fathers and found jobs which took some to other places. The same things kept the rest busy right here. They simply got on with life and found greater demands on their time and money than flying. A few others continued to soar whenever they could.

Just short of four miles west of town, lost now under Bruce Eisinga’s Highland township potato fields, are the runway ghosts of the short-lived Marion Airport. It was a busy place for a few years, but by 1955, the flying association had dissolved and potatoes once again grew where planes landed. The sole surviving hangar stores equipment with a more down to earth use these days.

It is generally agreed that most likely economics played a role in the demise of the airport. Essentially, Evart’s Municipal Airport, supported by the city and receiving government funds, simply won the airport wars. If folks wanted to fly they used the Evart or Cadillac Airports, or even the field of a friend.  For many years the closest thing Marion has had to an airport is John Downing’s landing strip on his farm just west of town.



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