By Gary Ness
Darrol Schroeder, farmer, business man, military man of many accomplishments, with more than 22,000 total hours flown in over 130 different types of military and civilian aircraft – Quite the accomplishment for a country boy from Davenport, North Dakota. (June 25, 1930 – March 3, 2019)
Little did the publisher of the SAJ know when he asked me to write a note about Darrol Schroeder that there was a connection between myself and Darrol – It goes back to 1946, when I was about 18 months old and riding around in the baggage compartment of an Aeronca Champ. My Father was an instructor at Dakota Skyways on Hector Field, Fargo, ND and was teaching the rudiments of aviation to Darrol. I have the baggage compartment log book entries to prove it.
Darrol had completed his hours and was ready to solo, but he had to wait for permission from his parents before that event could proceed. He had not informed his folks about this endeavor, while they were in the South land [Arizona] for the winter. He prevailed on my Father, Oscar Ness, to present good evidence on the benefits of aviation so he could continue the flying course. The history of the Darrol’s accomplishments is the result of my Father convincing Darrol’s father on the merits of aviation – Darrol many times reminded me of that fact.
We can move ahead from the 40’s to the late 50’s when Darrol came home from the service to farm, join the North Dakota Air National Guard (NDANG) and start an aerial application business in his home town of Davenport, ND. My Father’s business was located about forty miles away in Lisbon, ND and the two kept in touch thought out the years, continually promoting the aerial application business on a state- wide and national basis. They continued to be close friends.
In 1975 the community of Lisbon was fighting a flood and my Father was hospitalized and Ness Air Spray was behind several thousand acres of work. I had come home to find the need to get the aircraft in the air. Being several years away from Ag flying I called Darrol about the issue and he said, “I have one pilot on the way down today, more to come tomorrow.” The next day four aircraft sat on the ramp and five days later Ness Air Spray was caught up and the season was saved by a great friend. Now, jump ahead to 1986 when I applied for the job of Director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. Darrol was a member of that board that hired me to lead the State Commission. So the circle was complete from baggage compartment time to serving the aviation community of a Great State. Not only was this gentleman a military man but a Father, farmer, business man, educational development and general aviation advocate. The aviation community honored him in 2009 as a member of the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame.
The Fargo Air Museum released an in-depth interview of Darrol recently on Facebook. It is worth the time to watch and listen about his military time from learning how to fly, to the transition from props to jets; from WWII battle ground, to Cold War Nuclear readiness of the front line Air Force in Europe. I will miss the conversations that we had over the years, and sadly will never make up those that we failed to finish.