THE BLADE/HERRAL LONG Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Gene Damschroder loved to take people up in the air for their first flight.
Four-year-old Emily Gerwin, who lived in Gibsonburg, about 11 miles away from Mr. Damschroder's airport, loved airplanes but had never flown.
The two were destined to meet.
Likewise, Bill Ansted, who dreamed of owning a plane and lived in the Lindsey area of rural Sandusky County.
He got his pilot's license with Mr. Damschroder as his instructor.
So yesterday, it was a given that one of the flights Mr. Damschroder gave took up Mr. Ansted, 62, his daughter, Allison Ansted, 23, her boyfriend, Matt Clearman, 25, little Emily, and Emily's mother, Danielle Gerwin, 31.
Emily was so excited she waved to everybody as she got on the plane. There were lots of people she knew on the ground - her father, Charlie, her 10-year-old brother, Avery, who had already taken his flight, three grandparents, a great-grandmother, and a friend of the family.
Her maternal grandfather, Bill Truman, videotaped her getting on the aircraft.
She'd been entranced by planes ever since she was a toddler.
Back when she was 1, her family stopped at a store in a flight path in Chicago. Every time an airplane flew overhead she'd say, "Ahhh. Ahhh," her father recalled. They must have stood out there for an hour and she'd do it every time. The excitement never wore off.
Back home in downtown Gibsonburg, where her parents own the Pisanello's Pizza shop as well as the one in Elmore, Emily's fascination with airplanes continued. She'd point up at the sky and say "Airplane!" Her father would squint at the clouds before finally spotting the tiny speck she saw immediately.
Yesterday morning Mr. and Mrs. Gerwin only told her that the family was going to a pancake breakfast.
"We had to not tell her that's where we were going today just in case the line got too long or they weren't letting 4-year-olds on," Mr. Gerwin said.
Once Emily got on the plane, long after her family on the ground could see her, her father said he was sure she was still waving.
Everybody watched the plane take off.
But it was only her Grandpa Truman who saw it go down.
Then he saw the smoke.
He said he knew right then. The rest kept up a brave optimism, even as the hints of disaster became plain.
"I went across the runway and I heard someone call in on a walkie-talkie and they said there was a plane down and it was burning," Mr. Gerwin said.
They all went to Fremont Memorial Hospital and waited at the emergency room.
Barb Ansted was there too, waiting for her husband, her daughter, and her daughter's boyfriend. The Ansteds and the Gerwins know each other. Both families attend Zion Lutheran Church in Gibsonburg.
Mrs. Ansted was maybe the most upbeat of all of them in that room.
"She said, 'Gene has been flying airplanes for longer than most of us have been alive,'" Mr. Gerwin remembered.
She reminded everyone that her husband had his pilot's license and could have taken over if the 86-year-old Mr. Damschroder had problems.
She said both her husband and her daughter knew first aid.
And she said she could just envision them all getting out of the plane.
"We were sure hoping," Mr. Gerwin said.
But it wasn't to be.
"The trooper came in and said everybody in the plane didn't make it," Mr. Gerwin said.
Last night he stood on the front porch of his home, surrounded by friends and relatives. They didn't turn the light on. It would have drawn more mosquitoes. And the dark fit with their devastating loss.
There was Emily who in addition to planes loved princesses. She was Tinkerbell at Halloween and liked to dress up as Snow White too. Her favorite activity at Bear Cub Academy preschool was the play kitchen. She said her favorite color was purple because it was her Grandma Carol Gerwin's favorite too.
Emily often went with her parents to the pizza shop at lunch time.
Her mother, Danielle, almost always worked the lunch shift and then returned four or five evenings a week. She was a co-owner of the shop with her husband, Charlie, who had owned a shop by the same name in Bradner in Wood County before they married 11 years ago.
They were high school sweethearts who had met through the Zion Lutheran youth group. Charlie graduated from Woodmore High School in 1993. Danielle graduated from Gibsonburg High School in 1995.
After high school, Danielle studied wildlife management at Hocking College in southern Ohio's Nelsonville for one year.
"She loved to be outside. Nature and animals and trees and flowers," her husband said.
She helped band bluebirds with the Green Creek Wildlife Society and was a leader in her son's Cub Scout Troop 408. She had recently received the Thomas Biro award from the Erie Shores Council of the scouts for her work.
The Ansted family grieved for another lover of nature.
Friends and family said Mr. Ansted was an outgoing and funny man, who loved the outdoors - on the ground and in the air.
An Ohio State University graduate and Army veteran, Mr. Ansted was a manager and designer at Green Bay Packaging in Fremont.
"He was just an all-around great guy, very devoted to his family," said Sue Woolford, sister of Mr. Ansted's wife, Barbara.
Sue and her husband, David Woolford, met with the Ansteds on Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Woolford recalled Mr. Ansted looking at the clouds and imagining flying in between them.
"He always had a fascination for airplanes and flying," Mr. Woolford said.
In addition to his job with Green Bay Packaging, Mr. Ansted maintained a farm in Fremont and volunteered with Zion Lutheran, making chairs and stools out of cardboard for local charities.
He and his wife, Barb, enjoyed ballroom dancing.
He managed her campaign for a seat on the Sandusky County Common Pleas Court.
Their daughter, Allison, had graduated summa cum laude from Capital University and planned to teach English in China this year.
"She was outgoing and fearless, willing to challenge things," Ms. Woolford said. "She was a brilliant, brilliant girl."
Allison was a sky-diver, according to her mother's campaign Web site.
"She could do everything," David Woolford said.
Allison and Matt Clearman had dated for about a year.
He was employed at Maritz Research in Maumee and lived in South Toledo near the Maumee line.
A Livonia, Mich., native, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in statistics.
"He was a great kid," his mother, Mary-Ann Clearman, said.
As for Mr. Damschroder, sharing his love of flying with such a group was the epitome of the reason he owned the airport southeast of Fremont.
"Gene was the kind of guy who lived and breathed flying," said Ken Dumminger, an aerial photographer who worked with Mr. Damschroder for years. "He wanted people to experience his avocation."
If Mr. Dumminger's plans for a pilot to take him up fell through, Mr. Damschroder would take him in the air himself.
They'd talk politics - of course. Mr Damschroder wore his on his sleeve. Mr. Dumminger didn't always agree. But that had no effect on his admiration for Mr. Damschroder.
"He's just a tremendous individual," Mr. Dumminger said.
Contact Alex M. Parker at: