Michelle Anthony, 47, has spent most of her working career as an administrative assistant in a variety of businesses, never dreaming that life might offer her another flight plan.
That plan had led her to Arkadelphia as the new manager of Dexter B. Florence Memorial Field, better known as the Arkadelphia Municipal Airport.
“A lot of people don’t even know there is an airport in Arkadelphia,” Anthony said, laughing. “The city opened this airport in 1960.”
Until recently, Henderson State University operated the city-owned airport. Henderson offers a four-year aviation program and uses the field for its flight-training program; the university also houses 17 airplanes there for the students to use.
“Henderson did not want to be in the airport business any longer, so the city took it over,” said Brenda Gills, acting city manager of Arkadelphia. “We are very pleased with Michelle. She is doing a great job.”
Anthony was manager of the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport before accepting the job in Arkadelphia.
“I lived in Hot Springs for about 10 years and worked for a community counseling agency,” she said. “I took a leap of faith in 2010 and moved back home to Walnut Ridge. I was hired as an administrative assistant — secretary — at the Walnut Ridge airport, where I learned to fuel planes. Then they offered me the job of airport manager.
“I loved it,” she said, adding, however, that an opportunity came to make another move.
“I had applied for the airport manager’s job in Conway and then in Russellville, and was offered jobs at both places, but neither seemed right for me,” she said. “I just happened to be online, and I saw this position was open. I applied, came for an interview and was hired right then.
“I have been blessed,” she said. “I left Walnut Ridge on April 15, drove straight here and began this new job on April 18,” she said.
“This is a general-aviation airport,” Anthony said, noting that there are no commercial flights available and probably never will be. “Anybody can fly in here; it’s open air space. We have one 5,001-foot runway.
“Pilots of private or company planes stop here and refuel,” she said. “We also have a lot of parents who have students at one of the colleges (Henderson State University or Ouachita Baptist University) fly in and leave their planes here while they visit their children. We provide transportation for the pilots and their passengers into town.”
“Planes don’t have to notify us that they will be landing here, but we do have access to a computer program so we can see what is coming in,” she said. “As part of our customer service, we can radio them and let them know the weather conditions here and ask them if they need fuel.
“We offer fuel service, as well as self-service,” she said. The self-service is available 24 hours a day.
“On a good day, we might see up to five planes land here,” Anthony said.
Anthony said there are plans to build a new terminal at the airport, “when we get funding or a grant from the state Department of Aeronautics.
“It will be bigger,” she said, smiling. “We will be able to have a pilots’ lounge. And I want to be able to offer snacks here, too, rather than just a coffee machine, microwave and fridge.”
Anthony said she believes the airport is a plus for the city and Clark County.
“With the arrival of new companies such as Sun Paper, which recently announced it would be building a mill in Clark County, we hope to see a lot more jet traffic,” she said. “Having an airport nearby is attractive to a company looking to locate in your area.”
Marcus Caldwell of Clinton, a recent graduate of Henderson’s aviation program, was recently hired as a full-time employee at the airport.
“I’m working on my instructor’s license,” Caldwell said. “I’m hoping to get that within the next six months. I want to become a commercial pilot, and the only way you can do that is build up your flight hours, which I hope to do here.
“I’ve flown into other airports similar to this one. From a pilot’s point of view, this is a nice airport with a nice runway. As an employee, I like that we keep it looking pristine.”
Anthony said she is enjoying her new job.
“This is really a wonderful job,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve worked in a man’s world. I’ve certainly seen more men pilots than women, except in June, when 48 planes piloted by women landed here. There were two or three females in each plane.
“They were part of the Air Race Classic (an annual all-women cross-country airplane race),” she said. “They were flying from Prescott, Arizona, to Daytona Beach, Florida.
According to information on the website airraceclassic.org, each of the stops along the route was at or near a renowned college or university aviation program.
“We dispensed about 1,500 gallons of fuel during two days,” Anthony said. “We never stopped pumping gas.”
Anthony said the Arkadelphia Municipal Airport sits on approximately 200 acres.
“We have room to grow,” she said. Since she has become the airport manager, she said, the facility has improved and now has two gas trucks — one that contains jet fuel, and the other, aviation gas — and a new fuel farm where the fuel is stored.
Anthony was born in Rockford, Illinois, but her parents were from northeast Arkansas, and they returned home when she was a child. Her mother, Nancy Hall, was from Calamine in Lawrence County and now lives in Batesville. Anthony’s father, the late Larry Hall, was from Brookland in Craighead County.
Anthony graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1988, got married and started a family.
Anthony is the single parent of two children.
Her son, Cody Kelley, 25, lives with his wife, Tori, and their three daughters — Karsyn, 3 1/2, Jordan, 1, and Brooklynn, 1 month — in Paragould. Anthony’s daughter, Mattie Anthony, 15, is in the 10th grade at Arkadelphia High School.