Airport luncheon speakers remember Wayne Collins

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Friday’s annual report on the Wood County Airport Collins Field turned into a tribute to the airport’s long-time benefactor (and name sake) Wayne Collins.

Collins, the Mineola businessman who died earlier this year at 94, was notable in his absence.

The crowd was probably the smallest for the annual meeting, organizers said, in part because the weather was uncooperative Friday.

But in large part it was because Collins was not making all the phone calls he normally did to remind folks.

“He was the full-time unpaid administrator, planner and visionary,” said Dr. John Wisdom.

Wisdom recounted Collins’ history with flying, dating to 1947 when he used the GI Bill for lessons after World War Two.

Wisdom showed Collins’ logbook which detailed his first flight in a Piper Cub, and his later use of aircraft to attend clothing shows to stock the Collins stores in Mineola and other towns.

Wisdom recounted the night Collins crash-landed during bad weather in the late 1960s while trying to locate the only local airport at the time, Wisener Field.

“That’s why we have this airport,” he said, because Collins went to work finding a location and bringing county leaders together to support it.

“It wasn't common for all four county commissioners to see eye to eye,” Wisdom said. But Collins got them to work together.

The airport board has set up a display of some of Collins’ memorabilia and plans to expand that.

An even greater tribute, the Bonanza in which Collins logged 8,000 hours. is being rebuilt to fly even more.

Wisdom said the airport board’s mission is to “manage the direction he had us going in…to keep the logbook legacy going.”

Among the plans and goals for the airport are to have a full-time employee during the day, in conjunction with the cities of Quitman and Mineola and the county, the airport’s government sponsors.

As part of a multi-phaseplan to improve the airport, aircraft parking will be expanded as the first step to a larger airfield, which would first be widened from 50 to 75 feet and then lengthened from 4,000 to 5,000 feet.

That number is critical to attract corporate jets, some of which already come here.

That first phase will be in design and engineering in 2021 and construction in 2022.

Board member Neal Duncan talked about the importance of the airport to economic development, similar to how farm-to-market roads once helped the economy by connecting rural areas.

“You have to build it before the economic impact,” he said.

In addition to preserving the Collins legacy through photos and displays, the airport board also has plans for the old beacon, which came down in the last few months.

It could no longer be repaired. It was the airport’s original beacon when it was opened almost 40 years ago, and it was a used model then.

Its replacement is a more modern and energy-efficient style.

Plans are to refurbish the old one and build a pedestal upon which to install it for demonstrations.

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