Catalog Number
Date of Origin
4.5 in.
Black and white photograph of an airplane in a field at Park Township Airport. A second airplane is visible in the background.
The following information comes from Robert Swierenga's book "Holland Michigan: From Dutch Colony To Dynamic City", pages 665-669. "Park Township Airport
This setback brought service pilots and airmen, led by aviator “Peg” Malone, to come to Holland and develop an airfield on seventyeight acres “as level as a plate” north of Ottawa Beach Road (at presentday 152nd Avenue) in Park Township. With a permit from the Michigan Department of Aeronautics, Malone laid out a runway, built a $15,000 hanger to service planes and aircraft, and talked of a flying school for beginners and “a lady flying instructor.” Two airplanes equipped with pontoons for water landings soon arrived at the field, and Malone announced plans for regular passenger service between Milwaukee and New York, with stops at Holland, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Syracuse. The ambitious plan fell victim to the Great Depression.139 The state aeronautics board in 1933 complicated the situation by urging Holland to develop its own commercial airport. The city was on the direct line of Milwaukee to Grand Rapids airline service, and the state board wanted an emergency field at Holland, if nothing else. The request resonated with Mayor Nicodemus Bosch and the common council, who put on the ballot in 1934 a proposal to develop an airfield on Sixteenth Street “comparable to the best in the state.” But Holland voters rejected the idea. This setback prompted Bill Connelly of the chamber of commerce to induce the Park Township board to buy the Park Township field as a municipal airport. They agreed in 1935 and successfully solicited the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for federal funds to buy the land and improve the airfield. The Franklin D. Roosevelt administration looked favorably on jobs programs for skilled workers, particularly ones that would enhance air travel.140 The federal dollars were sorely needed. A 1935 exhibition by aero clubs from Michigan and Indiana brought in a dozen planes, including a large Ford Tri-Motor, but the aviators uniformly complained that the airport was unsafe. “Fix it up or close it up,” declared Col. W. H. Lake, a pilot with twenty years’ experience and a First World War air corps “ace.” When Lake landed at Battle Creek en route and asked about the Holland airport, “they laughed” and said the “landing field was closed.”141 Government funds covered more than 80 percent of the $32,000 airport upgrade; Park Township’s share was $6,000. The runways were laid out in a crossing diagonal, each 250 feet wide and 2,000 feet long. A brick hanger was erected on the south side of the field, with accommodations for four planes on a concrete apron, with a post office and mechanical shop. Township Supervisor George Heneveld managed the airport until 1942.142 The Park Township Airport was dedicated as part of the 1937 Tulip Time. “Air Day” featured an air show; plane rides in a Stinson aircraft piloted by Bob Vande Water of Holland; and the landing of a Lockheed twin-motor owned by Charles Walgreen, the Chicago drug store magnate, carrying Walgreen and his wife and other guests. Four months later, the airport had its real coming-out party with a fly-in by the world’s largest passenger airliner, the seventeen-passenger Boeing 80-A, sponsored by the Ter Haar Auto Co. of Holland. The tri-motor arrived from Muskegon with Arie Ter Haar and two salesmen, his brother Clarence, and Edward Boeve, along with Holland Mayor Clyde Geerlings, Ottawa County Judge Fred Miles, and a dozen prominent local businessmen. Holland finally had an adequate airport for private and commercial service. To maintain momentum, the chamber of commerce in 1939 formed the Air Progress Committee, headed by Clarence E. Smith, the pilot of the Holland Furnace Co. plane that was kept at the airport. In 1940 the company and the Kolla-Landwehr Foundation under Louise Landwehr, daughter of the late John P. Kolla and widow of the late August Landwehr, both Holland Furnace executives (chapter 13), donated $2,500 to equip the field with a battery of floodlights and runway lights for night flying. This improvement was essential to the government’s approval of Hope College’s proposed pilot training program at the airfield in late 1939. With war breaking out in Europe, the Roosevelt administration determined to strengthen national defense. By 1944 one hundred students were enrolled in Hope’s GI flight training program. The United States Postal Service also used the local airport as a feeder line for its airmail service. Since the airport served the entire region, the Ottawa County Board of Supervisors took over the airport lease in 1942. The county and the City of Holland each agreed to pay 40 percent of the operating costs, with Park Township paying 20 percent. Federal funds in 1948 paid for a 2,100-foot northsouth runway and for lengthening the northwest-southeast runway to 2,600 feet and the northeast-southwest runway to 2,100 feet.144 Park Township officials wanted to sell the airport to the city, but that was easier said than done. The aldermen were reluctant to burden the taxpayers. But the chamber of commerce kept their feet to the fire, arguing for the overriding economic benefits. Long-distance air travel had proven itself, and military aviators were available as pilots. In 1948 Stephan and city boosters declared: “The great and outstanding question facing Holland’s people today is: ‘Does Holland want an airport? If so, NOW is the time to act!’” In the end, the answer was a resounding “No.”145 The Park Township Airport never developed into the commercial operations the chamber envisioned; it remained a field for recreational and business aircraft. Beginning in 1962 the cities of Holland and Zeeland and the township of Holland provided $3,000 in annual subsidies for repairs and operating costs of the airport. In 1964 Charles Cooper, owner of Holland Motor Express and the pilot of the company plane stationed at the field, donated sixty acres adjoining the north boundary. Under the management of Henry Meeusen and then John Van Wieren, Park Township Airport in the 1960s was Michigan’s thirteenth busiest airfield. In 1966 Thomas Burgess, manager of the Tulip City Airport (see below) since 1963, moved his Burgess Aviation Corporation to the Park Township field and managed both ports. When Burgess died in a plane crash in 1969, his widow Charlene carried on as the first female airport manager in Michigan. Ronald and Barbara Wayner managed the airport until 1990, when they founded Mercy Air, a Christian aviation ministry in Africa.146 Park Township found over time that it was not financially possible to maintain the airport, even with public subsidies. By 1979 the airport was becoming run down and township supervisors, faced with a $25,000 expense for repairs, considered closing it. The resignation of John Veldman, the airport’s fixed-base operator, added another $5,000 to annual expenses for snow removal. These expenses fueled the debate. With a strong push from dozens of private pilots, however, the supervisors voted to continue operations with monies from the general fund. “Money is getting harder to find to keep operations going,” declared Gary Ouverson, chair of the Park Township Airport Commission in 1980. In 1983 the airport’s hangers housed some thirty to thirty-five planes.147 Holland Township that year threw its support behind the city’s acquisition of the Tulip City Airport and shifted its $3,000 a year subsidy to that entity (see below). A second shoe dropped when Ron Ludema of Tulip City Air Services, who had the contract to run the Park Township Airport, served notice of non-renewal. These events gave Park Township supervisor Jay Van Wieren the opening to propose phasing out the township airfield in favor of recreational uses. The airfield would never qualify for federal monies, he argued, because it could not meet the five-thousand-foot minimum runway length. Instead, Van Wieren proposed that Park Township contribute $5,000 a year to Holland for its airport. Supporters beat back the death warrant and in 1984 the Park Township board voted three to two in favor of a threeyear airport lease to Ottawa Aviation Inc., an arm of the Park Township Pilots Association, an organization of some thirty members. Holland Township officials then agreed to contribute $1,500 a year to Park Township, since crop dusters used the field to spray a large ornamental tree nursery in their township. In 1989 the airport issue came to a head again and citizens groups formed on both sides—carry on or close it. A township survey showed widespread support for turning it into a recreation park. The supervisors in 1990 put to voters a proposed fifteen-year, one-mill levy to transform the airport into a public recreation park. The vote failed by a two-to-one majority. The supervisors, of whom four of seven favored the levy proposal, then announced a plan to set aside the southeast section of the field for recreational uses. Sparks continued to fly over the fate of the airport, and in 1992 the issue went on the ballot again with the opposite result. By a thin two-hundred-vote margin, voters approved a twenty-year lease to Ottawa Aviation, the operator, to run until 2012. Van Wieren died the next year, and the opposition forces lost their champion.149 When Ottawa Aviation in 2001 offered to invest $2.7 million in airport improvements, if Park Township would sign a new twenty-fiveyear lease, opponents seized on the opportunity to call for ending the lease altogether. The supervisors stalled for seven years, in the face of a group of residents, led by homebuilder Steve Spoelhof, who wanted to convert the airport into a soccer field and children’s park. Township supervisor John Van Iwaarden agreed that the citizens were being under-served by “tying up a 78-acre piece of land whose value is over $3 million.” But a 2006 airport survey of adult residents by the Frost Center for Social Research at Hope College found that 61 percent supported renewing the lease. Finally, in October 2008, the township board did so; they approved a twenty-five-year lease by a five-to-two vote. The contract, to run to 2033, contained one escape clause at Van Iwaarden’s insistence: Ottawa Aviation must raise $52,000 by December 31, 2012, to help fund the five-year plan, or the township board can terminate the lease. Such drastic action seems highly unlikely at this point."
Gift of
Van Ark, Mike