People and Planes of Creve Coeur

In the department of flood recovery, Noah and his ark got nuthin’ on the folks at this little airport-except that many of the aircraft they saved are ones, not twos, of a kind.

The Question Mark is a 1932 Waco CTO ("T" for Taperwing). Phil Chastain is about to help Dan Mueller climb aboard. (Caroline Sheen)
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Cournoyer is taciturn, Stix is talkative. Cournoyer loves Wacos, Stix goes for Stearmans. Both are married to women named Connie. Connie Stix managed the airport for years and is there every Sunday. She helped Stix, Cournoyer, and John Mullen transform a 34-acre airport into a 285-acre one with a 4,500-foot concrete runway and a 3,120-foot grass strip, which the owners maintain because the airplanes equipped with tail skids can't operate on pavement and because some pilots think it's fun to land on grass. They've built about 100 hangars.

Stix says he and his partners originally decided to sell rather than rent the hangars because they needed the income to make payments on the $540,000 note they took on the airport. It turned out to have been a providential decision.

The 1993 Mississippi River flood, which claimed 50 lives and caused $15 billion in damages nationwide, left the airport under 20 feet of water. "We flew over a few times," says Stix, "and we couldn't see any buildings. We thought they had washed away, but they were just under water."

To the people of Creve Coeur, time is marked "before the flood" and "after the flood." Everybody has photographs. Everybody remembers the call from the airport owners as the river was rising: "Whoever can move an airplane, move an airplane." Out of 200 aircraft, 12 were lost.

Stix's partner, John Mullen, who had worked as a physicist at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis and was wise in the ways of government contracts, had managed to have the airport designated a reliever for Lambert-St. Louis International. The designation won them federal financial aid for clean-up and repairs.

When the waters receded, eight feet of Missouri river bottom was left behind. "If the hangars had only been rental units," says Stix, "the tenants would have most likely found other places to put their aircraft." As owners, the pilots stayed, cleaning and salvaging what they could.

The American Waco Club couldn't come in the summer of '94 (still too soggy). Stix moved his cooking operation to an airport in nearby St. Charles. "They came back, though," says Waco club member Ruthie Coulson of the people at Creve Coeur. "They fought hard. Al and Connie and all of them. They're real doers. They pulled together and now look at what they have."

The facilities at Creve Coeur are a reflection of what the owners were seeking when they bought the field: a better place than where they had been. Stix remembers working with his friend John Mullen on the Corsair they owned together at Arrowhead Airport, not 10 miles from Creve Coeur. "We were rebuilding the Corsair, and [when it rained] the hangar kept filling up with water," he says. "It was kind of an unsatisfactory situation to be in with power tools," he adds in characteristic deadpan. "We had this wonderful idea that all we had to do was just buy this airport. The more scotch-and-waters we had, the better it sounded."

The fact that an airport was there to buy is the result of a farmer's ambition for his son, according to retired machinist Jack Oonk (pronounced "unk"), who comes to his hangar at Creve Coeur almost every day to work on his Cessna 195.

Oonk's first airplane was a Luscombe, which he bought in 1953. That summer he hired an instructor for $3 an hour to teach him to fly it. Oonk went flying with two friends, Sid Coates and Aiden Cash. "Sid Coates-he had a Cub-was flying around in the evening west of Lambert," says Oonk, referring to what is now Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, "and the farmer waved him down. The farmer wanted his son to learn to fly, so Sid and the farmer struck a deal." The farmer, Norman "Ducks" Dauster, mowed a grass runway and put up a few shade ports on a 34-acre parcel of land. Coates, who was an engineer, designed a large hangar that today doubles as the party room, and Oonk designed the door for it.

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