A strip of land and a little ambition
By Kana Coonce
RIO CREEK – Though he won’t be here to see it, a man’s passion project celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Don Walter built Rio Creek Airport (RCA) out of a field in 1973 with the help of family and friends. Though the airport consisted of only a single runway at first, the next few years saw the additions of two hangars, an aviators’ clubhouse and an A-frame cabin.
Walter passed away from a degenerative lung condition this past March.
“He was very humble, very friendly,” said Bill Roethle, an officer of the Rio Creek Aviation Foundation (RCAF), a nonprofit dedicated to “fostering a love of flying for young and old alike in Northeast Wisconsin,” according to its website.
“He actually was an amputee,” said Roethle. “Had both legs removed below the knees and was an avid pilot.”
Walter was so good at hiding that fact, Roethle said, that he didn’t notice Walter was missing his legs until they had flown together several times.
Since RCA’s founding, the RCAF has hosted a number of fly-ins, though it has experienced a few lulls in action due to shifting levels of interest over the years.
The event typically sees 20-30 planes from across the continent throughout the day and features food, polka, plane rides and a silent auction.
“This is gonna be a lot about Don. We wanna remember him,” said Roethle. “Some of his ashes were actually spread on the runway.”
Walter flew a plane called the Ercoupe, “kind of a uniquely designed airplane,” said Roethle. “Most of them were designed in the late ‘40s and required no rudder pedals.”
Walter’s plane is still at the airport and will be on display at the fly-in.
The event, at its heart, is designed for lovers of aviation to share that love.
“We’re trying to promote his dream,” Roethle said.
Proceeds from food and flight sales go toward providing scholarships for dedicated aviation students and maintaining the 50-year-old airport.
“People who get into aviation just get into it,” said Roethle, who despite having traded his piloting career for 40 acres of apple trees is a commercially licensed pilot and flies four different planes recreationally. “For us out in the country — we’re in Kewaunee County. We’re one of those counties in Wisconsin that do not have a public airport. It’s just [a matter of] convenience. Takes a strip of land and a little ambition and desire. What pilot doesn’t want a little strip in his backyard?”
The 50th anniversary Rio Creek Fly-In and Hangar Dance will begin at 7:30 a.m. on July 1 with Porky Pancake Breakfast, followed by a dance accompanied by Mark Jirikovec Polka Band, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
A silent auction will run until 3:30 p.m. and rides will be offered for the entirety of the event.
This year’s event will have a petting zoo.