University of Illinois Willard Airport: Named after Arthur Cutts Willard
In Gene Cossey’s new office, a large framed photo of Arthur Cutts Willard sits atop a filing cabinet.
Until recently Cossey — recently named the airport’s executive director — didn’t know much about Willard, the former University of Illinois president.
“I knew that the airport had been named after one of the old university presidents from years ago,” Cossey said.
Willard made his name as an expert in heating, ventilation and refrigeration. Most notably, he was involved in the ventilation of the Holland Tunnel that joins New York and New Jersey.
But during his time as UI president (1934-1946), Willard was instrumental in the development of an aviation program at the Big Ten school.
The facility dedicated in October 1945 was known simply at University of Illinois Airport. At the end of Willard’s tenure as president, the Institute of Aviation named the airport in his honor.
“It’s very commonplace and normal for airports to be named after someone who was influential and instrumental in their forming and founding,” Cossey said. “It’s a good story, a very interesting story about how he had all this involvement in the establishment of the airport. I think it was very forward thinking of him back then to be looking to start the aviation center and the Institute of Aviation.”
Cossey, who most recently worked at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, didn’t know the history of Willard or the naming of the airport until he started looking into the available position in Champaign County.
“If this was named the Champaign Airport, everybody would know that. If it was Champaign County Airport, everyone would know,” he said. “I was at the Southwest Oregon Airport, everybody knew that was for the region. Bloomington’s is the Central Illinois Regional Airport. Those types of names are very clear to people. When it’s named after a person, they don’t know who the person is.”