A man whose love of aviation led to a longtime career at a community airport died earlier this week.
Ralph Pingel, 92, of Farmington died Monday. Pingel began his career at the Farmington Airport shortly after it opened in 1962 and would stay in that position for 25 years until his retirement.
A 2012 Daily Journal story before a 90th birthday celebration for Pingel told the story of his love for aviation.
Pingel is perhaps best known in the region as the longtime manager of the Farmington Regional Airport. Starting in 1962 with the construction of the new landing strip and terminal building, he oversaw operations at the county’s busiest municipal airport for more than two decades. Not only was aviation his job, but he passed a love for flying on to all his children.
Under Pingel’s watchful eye, the Farmington airport became one of the premier small general aviation airports in the Midwest. He formed Farmington Airmotive, Inc., which provided a wide range of services including air taxi, charter flights, air ambulance, fire patrol, aircraft sales, aircraft maintenance, student pilot training and FAA pilot examinations.
Farmington Airmotive, Inc. was a family operation. The Pingel children all worked at the airport while growing up — from cutting the grass, to refueling and washing airplanes — as a means of paying for their own flight lessons from their father. Daughter Karen was the first female pilot to solo from the Farmington Airport in 1963.
At the time, it was stated all three Pingel sons are now professional pilots. Scott remains in the area and works as a captain for Southwest Airlines. Karen and her husband, Fred, are both still active in aviation and own their own planes. Some of Ralph’s grandchildren are also pilots and aircraft owners.
During a dedication ceremony at the Farmington Regional Airport in 2013, the city renamed the entrance to the airport Ralph Pingel Lane. The dedication ceremony was held on Armed Services Day – which was appropriate since Pingel served in both World War II and Korea.
Pingel flew 75 missions in Korea. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission he flew over Heartbreak Ridge. His plane had 190 bullet holes in it after that mission, and one cannon shot. The latter had severed the plane’s roll control cables. Pingel and his men made it home, but the plane itself had to be scrapped.
After more than two decades Pingel retired from the airport and his business and lived in Terre Du Lac.
Survivors include his children, Karen (Alfred) Allina, Beverly (Stephen) Noller, Kenneth (Pam) Pingel, Ralph “Chuck” (Joan) Pingel, Sandy (Dennis) Miesner, Lisa Rozier, Scott (Patti) Pingel and Monica Ray; 14 grandchildren; seven great grandchildren, and two in the hangar; one sister, Ruth Pingel; a host of nieces, nephews and extended family.
Visitation for Pingel will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. today at Cozean Memorial Chapel in Farmington. Visitation resumes from 7 to 8:30 a.m. on Friday, with a Mass of Christian Burial beginning at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church with Father James Dyer as Celebrant. Interment will follow at 1 p.m. at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Memorials may be made to Honor Flights or Wounded Warriors.