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Fifty years of flying right -- Doc Wething has had big impact on DL airport

"They fly through the air with the greatest of ease, those daring young men in their flying machines..."

Once upon a time, Duane "Doc" Wething was one of those daring young men.

"I solo'd (flying an airplane) for the first time when I was 17... in 1944," Wething recalled earlier this week. That was the same year he got his first pilot's license.

Flash forward almost six decades, to 2008: While he still maintains a pilot's license for light sport aircraft, Wething gave up his commercial pilot's license a few years ago.

He retired from his business as a chiropractor -- hence the "Doc" nickname -- in 1991, after almost 41 years of operating a practice in Detroit Lakes.

But he continued to fly, and to serve on the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport Commission until this past month. He was appointed to the post in 1958, when the local airport was still a municipal airstrip only, and was supervised by a committee of the Detroit Lakes City Council.

Last Wednesday, Wething was honored for 50 years of service to the Detroit Lakes and Becker County Airport -- now known as Wething Field.

Yes, that's right. They named it after him. Not just because he's served on the airport committee, and later, airport commission, for five decades. But because he's helped to build that airport to what it is today.

When Wething started on the committee, the airport was little more than a small hangar/office building and a short airstrip. Today, it comprises seven buildings and has 56 stalls for housing aircraft, including everything from small, two-seater planes to sea planes -- and even a small jet plane, which is stored there during the winter months.

The arrival/departure building also houses a maintenance shop and the airport office. All but the original airport building were constructed through a loan program whereby the airport received a loan for the construction costs, and was given 10 years to pay it off.

"With the rental on the hangars (from airplane owners), we have been able to pay off the loans on all but one of the buildings," Wething said.

And through all these changes, Wething has been an intrinsic part of the airport's evolution. So what is it about airports and airplanes that has kept him fascinated all these years?

"I think it's the feeling of freedom (in flight)," he said. ""If you're having a bad day on the ground, as soon as you get up in the air, you feel so much better! It gives your whole outlook on life a boost."

It has also helped save time on family vacations: Rather than having to drive to Fargo to catch a plane, Wething has flown his wife and three children all over the country, from Florida to Texas, to Michigan to Montana -- "plus a lot of flying locally" -- all from the Detroit Lakes Airport.

Having his pilot's license so early in life also had its advantages in other ways.

Shortly after graduating from Fergus Falls High School, Wething joined the U.S. Army Air Corps -- "there wasn't an Air Force then," Wething said -- toward the end of World War II.

"I was one of the last draftees that was called up in 1945," he remembered. Originally, he started out as part of the Army infantry, but realized pretty quickly that "the infantry did not have a great future," so when he was given the opportunity to join the Air Corps, "I went for it."

He was mainly stationed at Marshall Field in Fort Riley, Kansas, as a weather observer in the weather station.

"We would put our observations out on the teletype network that covered the central and northwest United States," Wething said.

Two years after he was drafted, Wething received his discharge and returned to Minnesota, where he continued to serve in the army reserves, working in the weather station at Wold Chamberlain -- now Minneapolis-St. Paul International -- Airport.

"It wasn't quite so big in those days," he said wryly.

While he continued to serve in the reserves, Wething also obtained his degree and chiropractic license at Northwestern College of Chiropractic in Minneapolis. His first practice was in Waseca, Minn.

"We (Wething and his wife, Beverly) were in Waseca for a year and a half before I was called up for the Korean War," Wething said.

But because he had so little time left on his term of service, he ended up not being sent overseas after all.

In 1952, he and Beverly moved to Detroit Lakes, and "we've been here ever since," he said.

He was appointed to the airport committee the same year he was elected to the Detroit Lakes City Council in 1952. And he has continued to serve on the committee, through its change to an airport commission, up until the present. At the end of the month, his resignation from the commission will become official.

"It just seemed like the right time (to leave)," said Wething, noting that the airport is in the midst of planning for an expansion. "It's a fairly intense time for the commission -- it seemed like the ideal time to go and let (the new commission members) get involved with that."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454