Andersen’s airport legacy
Manager remembered for love of flight
By Angie Landsverk
Pete Andersen enjoyed every minute of his work at Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field.
“Everyone he met was an instant friend of the family,” said his daughter, Beth.
On June 1, 2008, Plane Guys Aviation became the airport’s fixed-based operator.
That was several years after the Andersen family established the business, basing it out of a hangar at the airport.
“He loved aviation. It was literally one day, he turned to Mom (Susan) and said, ‘I want to buy a plane and begin a business,’” Beth said. “Mom said, ‘OK.’”
They bought a factory-built light sport plane and started Plane Guys Aviation with Susan as the president, Pete as the vice president and Beth as a sales representative.
Now, Beth is taking on more of a role after her father passed away on Feb. 29.
“He was out here the Saturday before he passed away. He passed away peacefully at home on Monday, Leap Day,” Beth said. “We are planning a memorial for the future.”
Pete was diagnosed with acute leukemia last June and had a bone marrow transplant in October.
“His brother, Paul, was his donor. He was a perfect match,” Beth said.
Pete was in remission before being rediagnosed on Feb. 17.
Beth said her father always had a love of aviation.
Growing up around Racine, he helped out at the airports in that area.
“According to his log book, he started flying in 1988,” said Beth, who became a pilot herself in 2010.
Pete and Susan raised their family in the Appleton area, with annual trips to Oshkosh for the Experimental Aviation Association’s annual fly-in “mandatory,” Beth said.
City Administrator Henry Veleker said it was his pleasure to know Pete.
“Pete loved his work. He not only took care of the day-to-day operations but also understood how important the airport could be in promoting our community,” Veleker said. “I can say without question that the many activities that have taken place over the years at the airport would not have happened without his vision, guidance and perseverance in making them happen.”
Those events included the Cherokees to Oshkosh, air races and EAA affiliate events.
Pete was at the airport last July for what was the sixth year Cherokee pilots from throughout the country met here before flying in formation to Oshkosh.
“EAA’s been wonderful,” Beth said.
EAA did photo shoots at Waupaca’s airport, and a number of world famous aeronautic pilots practiced here, she said.
That included Sean Tucker, Michael Goulian, Sammy Mason and Rex and Melissa Pemberton.
Jetman visited the airport in 2014, and last year, a group of Warbird pilots flew over the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King before meeting with veterans at the airport, Beth said.
“Every year, it seemed like the amount of people for EAA increased,” she said. “The amount of jets coming in, the amount of piston airplanes. Just in general, there were a lot more commuters, charters coming in.”
Veleker said a number of infrastructure projects also took place during Pete’s tenure, such as the aviation fuel farm, which for the first time offered high test aviation fuel, and the multi-purpose hangar for the storage of the snow removal equipment and for numerous events during the summer.
This year, Pete had a hand in planning for the reconstruction and resurfacing of the tarmac area immediately adjacent to the terminal building, he said.
The history of Waupaca’s airport dates back to November 1944 when the city annexed the property.
It became an active airport in August 1945.
The current terminal was built in 1989, and the airport was renamed Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field in 1997.
The northwest corner of the airport began to be built up around 1999, and 2004 saw the completion of the airport’s runway extension.
Veleker said Pete also worked with local educators to get youth out to the airport and exposed to aviation.
He also discounted the cost for young aviators to learn how to fly, he said.
“Pete will be missed. Plane Guys Aviation has a succession plan that is being put into place as a result of Pete’s death. Just as in life, Pete always had his i’s dotted and his t’s crossed,” Veleker said. “Pete’s spirit will continue to live on at the airport. I’m confident that the company he built and the service expectation he set at the airport, will continue under the new management at Plane Guys Aviation. Pete wouldn’t want it any other way.”