Growing up, he slung papers for the Maryville Daily Forum, but unlike most 14-year-old boys, Joe Rankin didn’t spend his weekly earnings on candy or baseball cards.
Instead, he would buy 15-minutes of flying time at the Maryville Municipal Airport, which is now the Northwest Missouri Regional Airport.
In 1964 Rankin, and his wife Jo, became the new operators of the local airport. The couple marked 50 years as airport operators in 2014.
This airport is where Rankin’s fascination with airplanes became functional. Working as a line boy, Rankin was responsible for checking oil levels, filing gas tanks and keeping the incoming planes spick and span. He earned $2 a week doing this.
In addition to his monetary compensation, Rankin was given flying lessons and instructions on airplane mechanics — two skills that would pay off in the future.
He took his high school girlfriend on an airplane ride for their first date, as her parents supervised from the backseat of the plane.
“Not everybody in high school and a boyfriend that could take them out in an airplane on a date,” his wife said.
The couple has flown together ever since.
“I never ever thought in my wildest dreams I’d ever be in aviation when I was young,” Mrs. Rankin said. “I never knew I’d meet a pilot.”
This shared passion of aviation fueled the Rankins to operate the Northwest Regional Airport, with the help of Jack Donaldson.
To keep a privately-owned airport above water the couple knew the airport had to serve as more than just a gas stop for visiting planes.
“Aviation is an up and down business,” Mr. Rankin said. “For a small airport you have to be a jack of all trades. You’ve got to do a little bit of everything or you just won’t survive.”
Mr. Rankin incorporated his mechanical knowledge he’s been fine-tuning since his days as a line boy.
Later on, the Rankins started an aviation school in 1968.
In 1972, the class moved when the Rankin Airport was opened. The aviation courses are still offered for Northwest Missouri State University students and the public.
The first class prepares students for the Federal Aviation Administration’s written test. The second course is spent in the air earning the required flight time.
Contact Mrs. Rankin at 660.582.3791 or Matt Baker at email@example.com.
Watching their students transform into pilots during their first solo flight brings pride to the couple.
“You stand there and watch them fly and you say, ‘Whelp, I must have taught something to them,’” Mr. Rankin said.
The Rankins shared multiple stories of past students. One student, Denny Sapp went on to be a Blue Angels pilot in the Navy while another got a job as a pilot for the FBI.
Mrs. Rankin said putting new pilots into the air is the most rewarding thing she’s done in the realm of aviation.
The Rankins are in their early 80’s and neither one plans on cutting the engine anytime soon.
“As long as you like your job you don’t have to retire,” Mrs. Rankin said. “We just like what we do.”