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Airport Archives: He Was Mr. Airport

He was Mr. Airport
By LES SELLNOW
Editor, Brainerd Daily Dispatch

They called him “Mr. Airport” and Walter Wieland was just that in the Brainerd community.

He donated so much time and effort to establishing and developing an airport here that grateful city officials in 1965 formally named the airport Walter F. Wieland Field. A plaque in the administration building says it simply: “Walter F. Wieland Field. In grateful appreciation of community service.”

For the modest Wieland, the occasion rendered him speechless. “It took him totally by surprise,” his son, Jim, recalls today. “It was beautiful. There were tears in his eyes.”

The tribute was a deserved one. Wieland, who was born and reared in Brainerd, had practiced law here before leaving for Illinois where he operated the Mt. Vernon Car Company. He returned to Brainerd in 1947 and renewed what had been a long-standing love with flying.

It wasn’t long before he was chairman of the fledging Brainerd Airport Commission. The airport was in its final phases of construction in 1948, but there was still much to do in order to make it a profitable venture and one which would provide commercial air service.

Wieland threw himself into this project with energy. “The airport became his whole life,” son Jim says. “My mother used to accuse him of being married to the airport. In those days, you could always find him at one of two places, either at his office (located on Laurel Street) or at the airport.”

Almost all of the work that Wieland did on behalf of the airport was without charge. He traveled at his own expense and took no pay for the work he did, even though it far transcended what would be expected of a chairman of the airport commission. He used his legal knowledge to clear title on land and handle myriad other matters that cropped up as the airport took its first rather unsteady steps in life.

Wieland had always been interested in flying and in the early 1960s, he and business partner C.L. Nelson purchased a Navion. Wieland was taking flying lessons when he was involved in a traffic accident in an automobile that nearly took his life.

The crash occurred just south of Brainerd while he was on his way to the Twin Cities for a board meeting of a company he owned. Wieland suffered a fractured arm and leg and burns when his vehicle caught fire. He was saved by a nearby farmer who dragged him from the wreckage. He was in the hospital for 91 days recuperating and decided that the injuries should bring a halt to his pilot aspirations. However, it in no way diminished his enthusiasm for air travel and his determination that Brainerd should have the best small airport in the country.

Many tributes were passed his way at the dedication ceremony July 30, 1965. Lawrence McCabe, state commissioner of aeronautics said: “Without a Mr. Aviation like Walter Wieland, Brainerd would not have a fine airport like this—one of the finest in the state. Wieland not only developed this airport but boosted aeronautics throughout the state. Several other cities have patterned their airport commissions after the one here.

“This event today has the wholehearted support of the State Department of aeronautics.”

The late Mayor Clyde Gorham gave the dedication speech. “Too seldom,” he said, “do we pay homage to the men in our community who contribute so much. We have gathered here today that we may recognize and pay tribute to Walter F. Wieland, the man who furnished the leadership in the community in making this airport possible.

“We could not afford to buy the service Walter has rendered and neither can we ever repay him for his great contribution to this airport, to our city, our country and to our community.

“He has given unselfishly of his time and unlimited talent—and he has given thousands of hours of his time, both of which of course were necessary in making available these facilities that our children and grandchildren and children yet unborn will enjoy. He has done all of this asking no reward other than the privilege of having a part in making this airport possible and in making this a better community.

“When we try to tell in words the things we feel in our hearts, we become a little embarrassed about the things we want to say and wonder whether we are not becoming too sentimental. We have met today that we might in a small way show and express our deep appreciation to Walter F. Wieland, realizing that anything we may do or anything we may say will only represent a small token of our gratitude.”

Wieland, who had been summoned to the airport that day, on the pretext that something needed his attention, was gracious and modest in accepting the honor. He used the occasion to point out the contributions others had made, such as Les Schroeder, Minnesota’s first commissioner of aeronautics, former Mayor Levi Johnson and Alderman Walter Fall, among others.

Also on hand to pay tribute that day were Hal Carr and Frank Buttomer, president and vice president of North Central Airline. They presented a plaque to Wieland in appreciation for his years of serving as an advisor to North Central.

 
 
 
 
 

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Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport
16384 Airport Rd, Suite 5 · Brainerd, MN 56401-5852 · 218-825-2166