By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Charles Lindbergh was a hero to Russ Paschke of Winsted from the time he was old enough to learn about Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic.
“He was everybody’s hero in those days,” Paschke said.
His admiration for Lindbergh possibly influenced his interest in airplanes and the reason he enjoys spending time out at the Winsted Airport.
“Just like some people like cars, I like planes. That is why I am here,” Paschke said.
Paschke, 84, is the Winsted Airport manager and chair of the Winsted Airport Commission and, today, he is the one who is regarded by pilots who use Winsted’s airport as their hero.
“Everything you see (at the airport) we owe to this man,” Richard Logan, an instructor at the Winsted Airport from 1993-99 said, at the airport open house Oct. 17.
Logan made his comment after Paschke was presented an award for his more than 30 years of service to the airport by Mayor Steve Stotko.
As the airport manager, Paschke monitors and conducts maintenance at the facility and calls in the status of the runway.
“Russ does many tasks at the airport that most people don’t realize,” airport commissioner Dave Millerbernd said.
In the winter, when the runway is closed because of a heavy snowfall, Paschke is the one who walks out to the field through the snowdrifts to turn off the runway lights, letting pilots know the runway is closed, according to Millerbernd.
“He is out there fixing the runway lights when the bulbs burn out or the gophers chew the wires off. Many springs, he spends hours on the tractor pulling the roller back and forth on the runway to smooth out the surface,” Millerbernd said.
“I also know that he has spent many hours maintaining the furnace in the pilots’ office building when it needs fixing. All of this work is saving the city money,” Millerbernd said.
“Russ has not been able to fly a plane anymore because he doesn’t have his medical certificate, but he still does this work for the rest of us who can fly,” Millerbernd said.
Paschke has lived in Winsted for 40 years, but he grew up in Faribault, where he attended elementary school at Trinity Lutheran and Faribault High School.
While he was in high school, he began making model planes, powered by rubber bands.
“That was all they had in those days,” Paschke said.
He also began taking flying lessons.
Before he was able to graduate from high school or get his pilot’s license, World War II began and Paschke enlisted in the Merchant Marines, serving from 1943 to 1946.
For most of his service, he was on transport ships and liberty boats that hauled supplies overseas.
“When we invaded France, we shuttled between Southampton England and France carrying troops, tanks, and supplies to the beachhead. We would drop them off, then go back and get another load.
“We made nine round trips across the Atlantic. We mainly traveled in convoys.”
When asked if he was afraid at all during that time, Paschke said, “I was 18 and wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Right after the war, Paschke didn’t have much to do with aircraft for a time.
He returned to Faribault and married his wife of 62 years, Thaline, in 1947.
“When I got married, I didn’t do much flying. We couldn’t afford it,” Paschke said.
It was in the late ‘60s, while Paschke was an engineer at a creamery in Webster just north of Faribault, that he got a visit from Leander Sterner, part owner of Sterner Industries of Winsted.
Sterner flew down to meet with Paschke, offering him a job at Sterner Industries.
The two had met earlier when the creamery Paschke was working for at the time, purchased a boiler through Sterner Industries.
Paschke made the decision to move to Winsted, where he worked at Sterner Industries as a shop foreman, building equipment for the dairy industry.
Years later, when Sterner Industries closed, he started his own business, Paschke Plumbing and Heating in Winsted.
Soon after moving to Winsted, Paschke was able to get his pilot’s license.
“I mostly flew around Minnesota. The airplanes I had weren’t equipped to handle trips much farther,” Paschke said.
Paschke was part of a Winsted Airport club, which gave him the opportunity to rent planes from its members.
Paschke would rent a Sky Hawk four-place Cessna and he and his wife would pack up for the weekend and head up to their cabin.
“We would put our two dogs in the back,” Paschke said.
Twiggy, a medium-size poodle-mix loved to fly, according to Paschke.
“When I would take off, she would watch. When I leveled off, she would go to sleep. When we changed pitch, she was up there looking around, seeing what we were doing.”
The other dog, Simon, a Lhaso Apso, “was something else. He would hang onto me the entire time,” he said.
Paschke owned a couple of planes he was particularly proud of.
His first one was a 1941 Aeronca Chief. He flew it for a few years when he first got his pilot’s license. Later, he completely rebuilt the entire airplane. He finally sold it, but the plane is still in use today.
Another plane was an amphibious aircraft he wanted to have since he and his wife lived by Winsted Lake.
“I thought it would be kind of nice to have it on the lake,” Paschke said.
“It was a Volmer, which has retractable gear on it and you can land it in the water or on land,” Paschke said.
That plane took him 10 years to complete.
“Sometimes I think I spent more time building, than I did flying the planes,” Paschke said.
Paschke and Thaline have eight children, four boys and four girls.
• Steve is married to Mary Kay Robison and they live in Watertown.
• David is married to Carol and they live in Watertown.
• Stanley lives in Winsted.
• Patty is married to Gerry Wemhoff and they live in Winsted.
• Connie is married to Tom Schermann and they live in Winsted.
• Bonnie lives in Loretto.
• Mary is married to Tim Laxen and they live in Winsted.
• Wally lives in Montrose.
Russ and Thaline also have 28 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.