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Published: Monday, 6/4/2001

Airman inspired by Lindbergh

SANDUSKY - Harry T. Griffing, 91, an aviation pioneer who owned Griffing-Sandusky Airport and operated a flight service from the airport, died Wednesday in Firelands Community Hospital.

Mr. Griffing died from apparent heart failure, his son, Thomas Griffing, Jr., said. He moved into the Commons of Providence, a retirement community in Sandusky, about two years ago.

A native of Canton, Mr. Griffing developed an interest in flying as a teenager when he saw Charles Lindbergh flying an airplane over Canton after making his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

“He always told me that in 1927 after Lindbergh flew to Paris, Lindbergh took a tour of the country and flew over Canton. My father would have been about 17 at the time. He always loved airplanes. When he saw Lindbergh fly over Canton, he knew what he wanted to do,” his son said.

Mr. Griffing did not complete high school. He went to work as a truck driver, taking loads from Cleveland to Chicago. He met his future wife, Sue, who was working as a waitress in Fort Bend, Ind. They were married in 1935.

Mr. Griffing took flying lessons in South Bend a week after they were married and then taught Mrs. Griffing to fly. They bought their first plane, a Piper Cub, in 1937 for $900. They leased the fledging former Sandusky Municipal Airport, which consisted of a hanger and grass runway, in 1937, operating a flight service out of the airport until 1945. They gave flying lessons and took passengers on sight-seeing trips.

“They did a little bit of everything,” Mr. Griffing said.

During World War II, Mr. Griffing was a civilian flight instructor for the U.S. Army at the former Toledo Municipal Airport, which is now called Metcalf Field.

The Griffings bought a 32-acre soybean field on South Columbus Avenue outside Sandusky in 1945 and built an airport they named Griffing Airport. They continued providing flying lessons, but also expanded services to include flight service to the Lake Erie islands. They eventually started Griffing Flying Service, Inc.

“They did some short charter flying. The aircraft were starting to resemble airplanes as we know them today,” his son said.

The Griffings closed the airport on South Columbus in 1962 and returned to the 143-acre Sandusky Municipal Airport on Cleveland Avenue, which they had earlier leased. When the Griffings bought the airport, it had six hangers and a terminal building. The facility now has two paved runways and storage for 60 airplanes, including the 14 planes owned by Griffing Flying Service.

Mrs. Griffing died in 1990.

Mr. Griffing gradually stepped away from running the daily operations of the airport and flight service about 10 years ago. His son, Thomas, and daughter, Melodie Taylor, took over the business operations. They learned to fly when they were 16 years old.

Up until about three weeks ago, Mr. Griffing went to the airport daily. His son said someone would go to his father's home in the morning to pick him up. He hung around the airport restaurant, where he chatted with friends.

Surviving are his daughter, Melodie Suzanne Taylor; son, H. Thomas Griffing, Jr.; sisters, Mae Freeman, Garnet Coleman, Rose Duncan, Olive Davis, and Florence Barr; brothers William and Lawrence; five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. Saturday in Faith Memorial Assembly of God Church. There will be no visitation. Foster Funeral Home handled arrangements.

The family requests tributes to Faith Memorial Assembly of God Church, Church of the Nazarene, or First United Church of Christ.

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