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Jerry Benz

When Jerry Benz died in his sleep while vacationing in Kuaui , Hawaii at age 59, he left a heritage full of achievements in Aviation and the sport of Soaring . He also left us a basket full of plans and dreams which are at various stages along the way to reality . An engineering graduate from the Iowa State University , Jerry started his tenure as FBO of Ionia Co. Airport in 1970. His early involvement in Michigan Soaring came as a commercial glider instructor and dealer of Schweizer sailplanes . Just like Schweizer Aircraft nationwide , Benz Aviation deserves credit throughout the Midwest for promoting soaring in many ways : Training young pilots , selling Schweizer 1-26s and 2-33s to many a club in the region , repairing the occasional prang in his workshop , even scouting for towships for some of the clubs .

In 1972 Jerry staged the first Region 6 competition , the first of 27 consecutive annual regionals and always in the late August timeframe. This late August time - slot was a definate choice of Jerry’s : In his words : û After all the hot season contests throughout the US , many pilots and their families look forward to Ionia in August , where they usually can find the first little nip of Fall in the air.

Jerry’s love for the sport and competition carried over to his family : As soon as son Mike had his towpilot rating , he assisted Jerry and the other fulltime pilots in getting the contestants in the air. Daughter Becky , from her early adolescent years until she left for a teaching assignment in Japan , could always be found at the start - finish gate. Wife Carol usually held the whole operation together by doing the registrations, financial management and monitoring the retrieve phones.

It was inevitable , that in due time Benz Aviation would be honored with the staging of National Championships . Over the years Ionia saw:

1 Open Class Nationals
2 Standard Class Nationals
2 15 m Nationals
2 1-26 Nationals

As recently as last August Jerry and I discussed with SSA Director Charlie Spratt a potential Sports Class Nationals Championship for Ionia in the upcoming years.

Jerry Bernz had many promotional ideas, Some were already implemented, others were going to see the light of day this year :

Special Benz Aviation discount with the local motels.
Annual 2-Week Cross Country Camp in the Summer .
Annual relicensing weekend for all the private ships late in the Fall
One full weekend in the Fall with all aerotows for half fare ( $ 10 .-- per tow ! )
Fall color season tours for the general public using his two 6 passenger powerplanes .

Jerry dreamed of a new administration building next to the new hangar .

Jerry also thought a new, modern workshop next to the old hangar might someday become reality. One improvement Jerry had been working on is already happening this Spring: The construction of a new E - W taxiway will help improve glider traffic as well as power traffic.Also , the E-W runway will be extended to 4000 feet in the East.
All these innovations and improvements indicate that Jerry enjoyed good rapport with the County of Ionia and its Airport Commission .

Just like he always strived to give the best value to the soaring community, Jerry never forgot to give the same top value to the powerpilots : Benz Aviation’s rates for aviation fuel were known to be the lowest in the Midwest.. All these details need to be mentioned to round out the picture of Jerry Benz. His love and commitment to aviation showed in all his actions : When after a 440 mile crosscountry flight I finally landed back in Ionia near sunset, I found Jerry waiting up for me in the office , just in case I needed a retrieve from an out -landing.

We all will miss Jerry and his helpful ways and his ready laughter .

Our hearts go out to Carol , Mike and Becky .

We are hoping that with the help of the City and County of Ionia and some of the younger pilots that Jerry trained and employed , they will find a way to continue the operation at Ionia County Airport in the same efficient ways that Jerry nurtured over the years .

It is fair to say that nothing would please Jerry more !

R.W. Mozer

US National Team Captain 1983 , 1985 & 1987 .
Soaring Society of America Director 1980 - 1990 .

Posted: 2/1/2000


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