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Dorothy J. 'Dottie' Anderson, 1926-2012: Pilot instructed ‘generations’ in flying in region


Dottie Anderson, seen at left in this 2004 file photo.

The Blade
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BLUFFTON, Ohio — Dorothy J. “Dottie” Anderson, a private pilot who flew before she drove, who competed in air races for more than a half-century, and who taught hundreds of northwest Ohio pilots, died Dec. 8, in the Mennonite Memorial Home in Bluffton, where she’d been for a month. She was 86.

She had heart arrhythmia and kidney disease, her niece Karen Garmatter said. In 2004, she married Lloyd Shelton, a twice widowed father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The pair had been engaged in the 1940s but she ended the engagement. Mr. Shelton, 92, died June 26.

She passed much of her career and life at Bluffton Airport, where she taught generations through Bluffton Flying Service. Since the 1970s, she also was a flight examiner, testing applicants for private, commercial, and instrument licenses.

“She taught so many people to fly, and most people in this area, if you flew, you knew Dottie’s name,” said Jean Sloan, who learned to fly from Ms. Anderson — as did her husband and father-in-law. “She had many generations of familes she taught to fly.”

Her last air competition was the 2011 Air Race Classic, an annual cross-country jaunt. She and her co-pilot, Mrs. Sloan, almost always were top finishers, most recently in 2010.

“I like speed races. They’re fun,” Ms. Anderson told The Blade in 2004.

She was born Jan. 7, 1926, in Columbus Grove, Ohio, to Pearl and Jesse Anderson. She grew up on a farm in Hancock County’s Orange Township and was a graduate of Bluffton High School.

She took her first airplane ride when she was 8, and she never wanted to do anything but fly, Mrs. Sloan said. She took lessons, got a pilot’s license, and joined the Civil Air Patrol.

“I understand her dad said, ‘If they let you fly, I'll let you drive the car,’” Mrs. Sloan said.

She had a bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University. She attended with the notion of becoming a science teacher.

“I don't think she ever taught anything but flying,” Mrs. Sloan said.

Ms. Anderson’s first job at the Bluffton Airport was as a bookkeeper, although through the years, she washed windshields and lined brakes and gave air tours to dignitaries. Her lasting profession, since 1948, was as a flight instructor with Bluffton Flying Service.

“There weren’t many women flight instructors in Ohio when I received my instructor’s license,” Ms. Anderson told The Blade in 1973.

She was patient with her would-be pilots.

“Students loved her, and still do,” her niece said.

Mrs. Sloan received flying lessons as a Christmas gift in 1980 from her husband, Virgil.

“She made you feel comfortable,” Mrs. Sloan said. Within a year, Mrs. Sloan had her license — and the next year, Ms. Anderson asked Mrs. Sloan to be her co-pilot in the Air Race Classic.

“For 28 years, we flew the air race together,” Mrs. Sloan said.

Ms. Anderson was a longtime participant in the annual, and now defunct, All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race, best known by the nickname, “Powder Puff Derby.” She also took part in weekend races in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.

She formerly owned a Piper Archer and used to fly new planes from Florida to Ohio for a Piper dealer. In the 1970s, she built a small aerobatics plane from a kit. She was a charter pilot.

“She practically lived at the airport,” Mrs. Sloan said.

Ms. Anderson was a member of the Ninety-Nines Inc., an international organization of licensed women pilots; the Experimental Aircraft Association, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Her closest family were nieces Karen Garmatter and Connie Anderson, daughters of her late brother, Byron Anderson. She was easygoing, but neither niece wanted to learn to fly, and “that really bothered her,” niece Ms. Garmatter said.

“She would have loved to have us fly,” Ms. Garmatter said. “Not that we didn’t love to fly. We were up with her many times. We just didn't want control.”

Surviving are her stepdaughters Pam Shelton and Trish Ryland; three stepgrandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren.

At her request, there will be no services. Arrangements are by the Chiles-Laman Funeral Home, Bluffton. The family suggests tributes to the Mennonite Memorial Home, Bluffton.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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