The mood was light and there was a feeling of excitement in the air as residents, elected officials, and members of the Elizabethtown Airport Economic Development Board all gathered for the ribbon cutting for the newly constructed airport terminal building.
The keynote speaker for the event was retired US Air Force Colonel and retired astronaut, Curtis L. Brown Jr. He also cut the ribbon to officially declare the new terminal open for business.
Brown is a native of Bladen County. He was joined by his wife, Mary, his son Greg, and his sister Rebecca Baldwin.
“I’m very proud to be from Elizabethtown,” said Brown. “I’m very honored to be here today. I’m very honored to have my name on it (the Curtis L. Brown Jr. Field).”
Brown recalled growing up in Elizabethtown and learning to fly at the airfield that now bears his name.
He recounted that one day, in teenaged years, he was on his way to work at the former Western Auto Store that was run by his father when he saw a couple of airplanes on the side of the road at the airstrip. At the time the airport didn’t have any hangars. Brown said he stopped and spoke to the men there and they told him they were going to give flying lessons.
Brown said he drove to town and told his father he was going to take flying lessons. He said he soloed in a Cessna 150.
“My life changed forever,” said Brown.
He said he also would help with the lessons by flying the planes to Lumberton to fuel up because at that time, there was no fueling station at the Elizabethtown air strip.
Brown went on to have a successful career in the US Air Force attaining the rank of Colonel before retiring. He also flew on six space shuttle missions, including one mission where he was joined by former astronaut and US Senator John Glenn.
Now, there are hangars, 26 aircraft are stationed at the airport, and there is fueling station as well as the newly constructed terminal building.
The terminal building was named in honor of Mac Campbell Sr. The Campbell family gathered outside the building beside a sign that now carries the name Mac Campbell Sr. Terminal Building. David Clark gave remarks about Campbell’s love for aviation and his dedication to the town of Elizabethtown.
Clark recounted first meeting Campbell when he was a young child. He said the first time he had met Mac Campbell Sr. was 80 years ago. He recounted that a child had been bitten by a dog and was having to take the rabies series of shots. At that time, the shots were very painful and had to be administered in the abdomen.
“Every day that guy had to have a shot. Mac Campbell Sr came to our room and he said something to the class and took that little boy and put him at ease and took the child for his shot and took him home,” said Clark. “That impressed me.”
Clark recounted how Campbell came to Elizabethtown and opened a gas station and a grill. Campbell’s business was doing well until he had a higher calling. Campbell was the very first man in North Carolina to be selected for the newly formed selective service. Clark said after serving in the war, Campbell came home and started Campbell Oil Company which continues to operate today.
Campbell was also very active in civic work and tried to make the town and county better.
He was also avidly involved in aviation. Campbell was one of very first individuals in Bladen County to have an airplane, according to Clark. Campbell had a small landing strip just north of NC 87 that started in the vicinity of what is today the Knights Inn motel and ended near Scout Lane.
Clark said the plane had a 40 horsepower engine and no wheel brakes and wheel at the tail. “He flew it and he flew it a lot,” said Clark.
Campbell is also credited with giving many individuals their first airplane ride and introducing others the love of aviation.
“He left quite a legacy that is still growing today. The hangars and aircraft here today are the results of the work of the second and third generation,” said Clark.
He also noted that former Elizabethtown Mayor Bill Keith was greatly influenced by Mac Campbell Sr. and his love of aviation.
Mayor Sylvia Campbell welcomed the guests and thanked those who have worked to make the new terminal building a reality. She acknowledged the Airport Economic Development Board and Town Manager Eddie Madden.
“I want to recognize and thank Eddie Madden. Thank you for continuing to help our airport grow and our town to grow,” said Mayor Campbell.
Others recognized included Assistant Town Manager Pat DeVane who served as project manager, the town board members, the interior designer Rob McNeil and other elected and government officials. The building was constructed by Graka Builders of Whiteville for $1.4 million.
“We do appreciate the quality of what you have constructed for us,” said Fred Tate, the chairman of the Airport and Economic Development Board. “It is debt free. By receiving grant funds, we were able to do this without any increase in tax funds.”
Tate also briefly discussed the impact the airport has on the town and county. He said the airport generates $15 million in revenues and $211,000 in tax revenues. Tate also mentioned the service the airport provides to corporations.
Others recognized during the event were donors for furniture. They included, Mary Greene the conference room/boardroom is named the Ben W Green Conference Room. The family of David and Giles Clark have donated for the Pilots Lounge.
By Erin Smith, with BladenOnline.com