Happy April (probably close to May), to all,
Just to prove us winter-2014-weather-complainers
wrong, an almost-summer, 80-degree day awaited the 40-50 who came out for
the first GLHG meeting of the year. (Those of you with good memories know
we have always started our year with a share session; I guess there is
always time for a “first.”)
Among our regulars: Donna & Walter Ingalls,
Phyllis Beechert, Stephanie Ingalls, Christine Mickelsen, Marie and Bob
Shaw, Mary & Allyn Shaw, Ron Golden, Cathy & Tim Broder, Lew
Knott, Judy & David Rundell, Bette Welter and Robert Uzzilia. Among
some of the newer faces: Katja & Paul Rehm, Walter Jeune, Barbara
Schmollinger, Lois Rockefeller, Jeff Barrett, Rachel Ceasar & her dad,
Marilyn and Dick Snow, and others I never caught up with or did not write
the name. (If I did not mention your presence at the meeting, let me know
and I will fix it for next time.)
Especially heart-warming for our guest speaker, it seemed half the
crowd either was instructed by, knew, or flew with Clem.
After audience introductions, I took a minute to
introduce our guest speakers. And after a lengthy list of accomplishments
and life experiences, I had to reveal that Clem and
Rita Hoovler were as close as local history can get—my in-laws.
They, and Deb and I, shared a connecting walk-bridge when they owned the
Freehold Airport, and that bridge was razed a year before Hurricane Irene
would have swept it away.
I had crafted about thirty slides for the slide show that showed
various aspects of the popularity of flying, local sites, and then aspects
of the Hoovler business.
Some context was provided with the influence of Charles Lindbergh
(even with a slide of the Spirit of St Louis on the Freehold Flats! A-hem!
Correct plane, wrong place, as I found out years ago).
Combine the Lindbergh mystique with planes that could land in a
flat cow pasture or hay field, and our countryside was witness to many
landings, with more regular ones at Birmann’s (Rainbow Lodge), Ingalside,
and Freehold. Every town had a few good landing spots, and many a story
must have been told in the 1930s about those new-fangled air machines.
And back to the night’s focus.
Rita was born in Brooklyn, Clem on Long Island, and then Rita’s
family moved to Long Island where the two eventually met, courted, and
Clem’s early interest in flying was sparked by his Uncle Paul;
Clem earned his pilot’s license at 16. He worked a few years at Grumman
and learned a few more tricks of the trade. Looking for a life beyond
assembly line, Clem looked to operate an airport in an area where another
part of family had moved to—the Hudson Valley, Catskills area.
Clem and Rita bought land in South Cairo, started to build a house,
and moved with their first daughter (my wife Debra!) by 1960. Clem looked
forward to operating the Catskill Airport but a winter fire destroyed it
as well as Clem’s first potential job here. They had looked originally
at Pittsfield and Great Barrington but the land or the situation was not
suitable for them. They next moved on to the Cairo Airport where Clem
worked for a year. He then met Virgil Phinney
of Freehold who had been flying for over twenty years and had used the cow
pastures of the Phinney farm on the upper Freehold flats as an airstrip.
Virgil had removed a couple of obstructing stonewalls to make way
for what is today’s runway. Then, an entreprenurial spirit moved, and
Virgil’s next venture was to investigate the production of a new
airplane model, the Jodel, that originated in France. He and a few
partners built a new building, with new lettering (Iroquois Aviation)
painted on, lettering that is faintly visible today on the Greene County
Highway Department! (This will be a picture for the 2015 calendar).
This promising venture came to a tragic end when Virgil was killed
in an aviation accident shortly thereafter, dooming the venture. Clem was
cast adrift but managed to work out an agreement with the landowner, Fanny
Phinney (Virgil’s aunt), and Clem and Rita were able to purchase the
property in 1965/66 and started Catskill Valley Flying Service.
Clem held multiple licenses to pilot the planes, give instruction
how to fly, and perform mechanical work. Over the years, thousands have
taken a scenic ride, earned their pilot’s license, or had work completed
on their plane at the Freehold Airport. Meanwhile, Rita oversaw the
office, kept the books, did the customer service, gave directions, ran an
art gallery, and more.
In 1975, Clem’s birthday gift was a load of boxes of parts and
framing that would become the Fleet bi-plane that would later be sold to
the NYS Museum where it hangs today.
On Mother’s Day 2000, a lightning bolt during an early morning
storm struck the office, starting a fire that destroyed the old
office/farm barn. But within a few weeks, volunteers and friends pitched
in to help Clem and Rita build a new office that services the airport yet
Finally, age was slowing the couple, and they sold the airport to
the Nutmeg Soaring Club, an organization whose core is from the western
Connecticut area but many locals also avail themselves of the
After the slide show, Clem fielded questions and
comments from the floor, many of whom attested to or embellished the
details above. Close calls, quirks, great instruction and lessons of life,
friendships that still last, etc., were the basis of many of the comments.
A thank you goes to Rita and
Clem for retelling and reshowing their part in our community’s
The May 12th meeting is a rare
two-parter. First, Mary and Allyn Shaw will present several, or more,
devices/practices of Yesteryear, challenging the audience to identify
Then, Anne Lafferty, with friends, will present the 40+ year
history of Greenville’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, an event that once
again celebrated another year in mid-March.
Don showed the 2014 Iroquois calendar, a production that featured
pictures of gazebos in the towns that share the Iroquois pipeline. Yup,
Greenville is March
Judy Rundell has
donated Chuck D’Imperio’s latest work—Unknown Museums of Upstate New
York: A Guide to 50 Treasures. Thank you, Judy, for your thoughtfulness.
(Chuck will return for our July meeting!)
Of course, a thank you goes to Stephanie and Christine for hosting
the “light refreshments will be provided” part of the billing. Always
I often note the passings of past members. Until four
years ago, my mother Connie was a faithful attendee and supporter of the
group (and, of course, my efforts!). Declining health forced a move to
Delmar, but she continued following our goings-on, even if it meant me
reading the newsletter to her and answering the questions she had.
This bond-building practice ended with her death on March 28th.
And because one of her wishes was to have people donate, in
memoriam, to the Greenville Local History Group, I finally opened a bank
account in the name of the GLHG so community members can donate to our
cause. So, donations can be made to the Greenville Local History Group
(tax exempt purposes), or to me for the expenses type of stuff
(newsletters, etc.). Nearly $300 was donated, all of which will go to the
2015 calendar, a production my mother always looked forward to.
And a warm thank you goes to so many of you for your condolences,
sympathetic words, and empathy.
Another obituary struck me the other day. Marjorie (deHues)
Shaw passed away in late March, 2014 at the age of 102 (her husband Robert
survives). It immediately rang a note of recognition. In a picture of the
first GCS faculty (not GFA), Miss deHeus sat in the front row. I paid even
more attention because the mid-identification of her was one our first
And on the newsletter front, I noticed with some surprise, and some
pleasure, that the 50th email address was added to the GLHG
email list. If you know of anyone who might want to keep up to date with
our meetings, forward the email, or let me know and I will add the address
to my list.