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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

Farmer, former commissioner ran airport on property for 60 years

BLISSFIELD - Mearl C. Betz, 89, of Blissfield, a retired farmer who served four terms as a Lenawee County commissioner and an avid pilot who owned and operated Betz Airport near here, died of cancer Friday in his home after a six-month bout with the illness.

Mr. Betz, a Blissfield native who was a farmer most of his life, retired in 1978. He was a county commissioner from 1984 to 1992.

Mr. Betz was an avid Republican, Larry Gould, a Lenawee County commissioner and a fellow Republican, said.

"He was an extremely conservative individual," Mr. Gould said. "And if you come from the Blissfield area, you want to be a very conservative person if you want to be elected."

When he launched the airport in 1946, Mr. Betz couldn't fly an airplane and had no interest in flying, he told The Blade in a 1995 interview.

"A neighbor wanted to keep his J-4 Cub on my 60-acre farm," Mr. Betz recalled. "He took me up for a ride, scaring the daylights out of me. I tried to fly it and couldn't. Then he got to me by saying he knew I never would learn."

Thus challenged, Mr. Betz, in partnership with a brother, Lloyd, bought a 65-horsepower Piper, and took flying lessons from an Adrian instructor.

"It took me longer than some to learn, but I finally got my license in 1951," Mr. Betz said.

He continued to fly and purchased a 1955 Tri Pacer.

At the urging of his former neighbor, Mr. Betz converted a 10-acre hay and wheat field into a sodded east-west landing strip. Many a pilot has since made an emergency landing on the privately owned field, with its 2,500-foot grass strip and hangars with rental space for 12 planes.

After retiring from farming, Mr. Betz devoted all his spare time to the airport. He and his wife of 64 years, Rita Betz, lived in an adjacent home, which serves as an aerial landmark for the landing strip.

For almost 60 years, Mr. Betz personally looked after airport maintenance, with help from family members in his later years.

He told The Blade 10 years ago that his intention was to stay on indefinitely, living on the old homestead with his wife and keeping the airport as business.

"Sit around doing nothing, and you go stale," he said. "I will need to live until I am a thousand years old to complete all the projects I have in mind."

In 2001, Mr. Betz started construction on a north-south runway. It will be finished next year, his son, Dennis Gould, said.

Mr. Betz was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Blissfield. He also was past president and lieutenant governor of the Blissfield Kiwanis Club.

In his free time, he enjoyed bowling.

Surviving are his wife, Rita Betz; daughter Diane Spillman; son, Dennis Betz; sister, Lorna Engel; four grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the Tagsold Funeral Home, Blissfield, where visitation will be after 2 p.m. today.

The family suggests tributes to the First United Methodist Church of Blissfield, the Blissfield Kiwanis Club, or the Hospice of Lenawee.



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