- Associated Press - Saturday, March 7, 2015

WAYNE, Neb. (AP) - Wayne Municipal Airport officials are flying high after recently receiving Nebraska’s 2014 Airport of the Year award.

Pretty impressive, considering that the airport resumed full functions only about halfway through the year after being nearly blown away by a tornado.

“It made us proud to see it get rebuilt that fast and then get honored,” said Karma Schulte, general manager of Becker Flying Service. “It means a lot to all of us that they recognized how hard everybody worked to get this back.”

Wayne Municipal Airport Stan Morris Field was one of many businesses and homes destroyed in the Oct. 3, 2013, tornado that did millions of dollars of damage in and around Wayne, the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1DQEI8J ) reports.

Probably 95 percent of the public airport was destroyed, said Tom Becker, airport manager and Becker Flying Service owner. A new terminal building and hangar that were days away from opening were ruined. The caretaker’s house was wiped away, leaving behind Jim and Sandy Hoffman, who had taken shelter in the basement. Jim required 12 stitches in his head, but they were otherwise OK.

Also gone or damaged were six hangars, an office building, 15 private planes and the airport’s rotating beacon, weather recording equipment, runway lights and various tools and equipment. Many of those buildings dated back to the late 1940s, when the airport was established.

Basically, all that was left were the concrete runways. Becker moved his camper to the airport after the storm and worked out of that

“Wayne Municipal Airport was a gas pump and a camper,” he said.

At that point, awards were the furthest thing from the minds of Becker and airport authority board members. Workers cleared the debris, leaving nothing but concrete slabs. The goal was to get the airport running again as quickly as possible.

The pace at which they were able to do so is impressive.

The first runway was reopened two months later, though only able to accommodate daytime flights because of the lack of lighting.

The next month, the Hoffmans moved into a new caretaker’s home on the airport grounds, the first structure to be rebuilt.

Hangars, beacons, lights and, finally, the terminal building followed. In June, the airport hosted a national aircraft owners club convention. By August, the $2.7 million rebuilding project, paid mostly by the airport’s insurance, was completed. It’s business as usual once again.

Becker still finds it hard to believe all that work was done in such a short time period.

“If you were to put it all down on a piece of paper what we were going to do, it would be a three-year program,” Becker said. “It was 10 months and we were up again and going 100 percent.”

Becker and the airport board were satisfied with that. Then they were notified in January that not only had they been nominated for airport of the year, but they would be receiving the award Jan. 29 at the Nebraska Aviation Council’s Aviation Symposium.

“It’s a big deal. There’s a lot of nice airports in the state of Nebraska, but there’s none newer,” said Becker, who also manages the airport in Hartington, Nebraska. “I think it’s a tribute to the city and airport authority and how bad they wanted the airport back up and running again.”

It’s a fitting honor for a group of people who put in countless hours getting the airport’s operations back off the ground.

With such an honor in hand, you can’t blame them for feeling sky high.

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