One of the most influential figures in regional aviation is gone, but his passion for the field lives on.
The former manager of the Beatrice Municipal Airport, Donald Boyd Fitzwater, 83, passed away Friday morning, June 19.
Fitzwater helped the Beatrice Airport and many aviation associations grow throughout Nebraska and within their communities.
“Don was a mentor to me,” current airport manager Diana Smith said. “He taught me everything about aviation and taking care of this airport.”
Fitzwater was hired by the Beatrice Airport in 1954 and held the position of Airport Manager for 46 years before retiring January 1, 2000, when Smith took his place.
After his retirement, Fitzwater continued to support the airport. He served as chairman of the Airport Authority from 2000-2014. Throughout his career he helped with flight instruction and flew charters throughout the Midwest.
“Don was easygoing and willing to help in any way,” Smith said. “He was always willing to teach and share information on the importance of the airport and the aviation field.”
Fitzwater contributed to many firsts in the aviation field. He was squadron commander for the Civil Air Patrol Chapter, one of the founders of the Flying Conestogas (an aviation and airport booster and organization), was instrumental in putting up the Air Force Jet at the Beatrice Airport and was one of the first weather observers in the Nebraska Observation System starting in 1956.
“Don had such deep feelings toward the airport and aviation, we can tell those feelings haven’t left,” Smith said.
In 1991, Fitzwater was awarded the Presidential Citation by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the highest AOPA award given in the field of aviation.
Fitzwater had a passion for making sure the customers were happy and that they would be returning, Smith explained.
“It was important for him to make people feel welcomed at his airport. If there were any accommodations people needed, Don made sure that happened,” Smith said.
Throughout the years, Fitzwater held all of the offices of the Nebraska Association of the Airport Officials and was inducted in the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001.
He was a member of Elks, Eagles, sons of the American Legion, Jaycees, NRA, AOPA, Masons and Sesostris Shrine, re-organized the Jay Husker Antique Car Club and started the first Swap meet. He was also instrumental in forming the Gage County Historical Society in 1971 as president and served on the board for many years.
He also organized and served as president of the Beatrice Airport Foundation, organized in 1991.
“Don was dedicated and had a passion for aviation. He was such a good mentor and did his best to make the airport the best it could be,” Smith said. “I will try to follow in his footsteps with that same passion and dedication.”
A funeral service for Donald Fitzwater will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 23, at the First Presbyterian Church in Beatrice.