A Walk in the Airpark
Rest and renewal in a long-standing pilot community.
- By Del Wilber
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
(Page 2 of 6)
In 1945, looking for a holiday and vacation home with a small airstrip, Morris was flying with his wife, Lillian, in his new single-engine Stinson 108 when he spotted Kent Island. According to a family biography, he was taken with the farm fields and jagged shoreline. He, Lillian, and their two children took a ferry back the next week. Morris bought a 140-acre farm and plowed a 2,000-foot path through a potato field and planted it with Kentucky bluegrass. He built a house, and soon friends were flying in or taking the ferry to visit, and Lillian would cook for them and visiting strangers alike. Bill built guest houses. Eventually, friends started buying lots along the strip.
Morris dredged a marina and built a restaurant that became known for its crabs, crab cakes, crab pretzels, and crab imperial. On summer weekends, Kentmorr Restaurant still bustles with families and boaters. Over the years, television reporters and print journalists have wanted to do stories on Morris. But he usually demurred.
His daughter, Annette Lerner, recalls that he turned down a proposal by CNN to do a segment on his continuing to fly into his 90s. “If the FAA finds out this old codger is flying at 91, they are going to take my license away,” Morris told her. He kept on flying. In 2005, he made his last solo flight. It was his 98th birthday.
He died a few months later.
“He didn’t have grand visions, and Kentmorr was what he hoped it would turn out to be,” Lerner says. “To my dad, it was always about the airplanes and airplane lovers.”
For Years, After taking a ferry or crossing the new four-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge, visitors bound for Kentmorr had to navigate winding and sloppy dirt roads. In recent decades, the roads were paved, and commuters and retirees began to settle in the relatively inexpensive housing. Since 1950, the island has grown from about 2,000 residents to 16,000. Kentmorr saw its biggest expansion in the late 1970s and 1980s, when a group of retiring pilots and their families joined the neighborhood. The residents were close then, friends lured to Kentmorr by other friends. They helped one another build hangars and houses and airplanes. They stayed into old age.
When Jim Cannon died in 1994, his friends Roger Guest and Bob Martin scattered his ashes over the runway from Martin’s Fairchild 24. When Martin grew too weak to hop into the cockpit, Guest flew Martin’s Piper Cub around the traffic pattern so Martin could watch it fly. When Martin died in 1999, Guest and another friend scattered Martin’s ashes over the runway too.
“We care about the place,” says Guest, 74, who moved into Kentmorr in 1987 (and, when he was the airport manager, extended the runway). “It’s our home. Bob loved this place. It was just one group, especially that early group, and we lived on like a family compound.”