Vermilion Regional Airport Manager Fulfills Father-In-Law While Innovating | Transport
DANVILLE — While collecting candy and hosting a group of pilots for a Trunk or Treat event at Vermilion Regional Airport last October, airport manager Alexandra Gale expected about 200 kids pass by with their families to grab treats and check out some planes.
When the time came for the event to begin and she looked at a line of cars stretching far down the street, emotions began to flow.
“By the end of the night, almost 2,000 children came to the airport,” she said. “I was on the verge of tears at the end of the night… One of the pilots had run out of candy, but he was putting the kids on his plane. Parents could take pictures, and you could see them s ‘light up. You could tell it was one of the best times of their lives, and it was a lifetime memory that these families and children had.”
During her first year sitting behind her father-in-law’s old desk, it was important for Gale to promote the airport and educate the community about its importance to the community, including its role as a place for the companies Meijer, Love’s Gas Station, McClain’s, Fiber Tech, and Wal Mart, to steal and deliver goods.
To get people to see the usefulness of the airport, however, she had to bring them in. She did this by hosting events that included a vaccination, clinic, Easter egg hunt, and the Trunk or Treat event.
“I worked really hard in my first year to change the public perspective of the airport,” she said, “and just say, ‘Hey, this is how we’re a huge economic engine for the community. , and even if you don’t care about planes and you don’t care about the economy, here are some things where you can come here and use the space.
She’s been so successful in this endeavor that the Illinois Jaycees recognized her as one of their “outstanding young people from Illinois” earlier this month.
“She’s done a great job following in her father’s footsteps, but at the same time innovating,” said Alan Carlson, a maintenance worker at the airport since 1980.
For Gale, seeing children experiencing joy at the airport was particularly moving. After all, the daughter-in-law of longtime Vermilion Regional Airport manager Bob Gagnon grew up with the airport as her second home. She learned to ride a bike at the airport, helped her dad with floats for Danville’s annual Christmas parade which he helped resurrect, and got to know the maintenance crew so well that she called some of the thematic uncles.
During this time, she watched her father-in-law innovate and promote the airport. During his three decades on the job, Gagnon, who died in 2017, oversaw construction of the armory at the airport, brought in cargo carriers who delivered shipments to the area, and extended the main runway by 5 000 feet.
He also helped organize the Balloon Classic, the predecessor of the current Balloons Over Vermillion festival. Gagnon, an entertainer in his spare time, also helped revive Danville’s Christmas parade and spent hours making the airport float.
“The parade had shrunk to almost nothing,” Carlson said. “He played a very important role in getting this parade started.”
Perhaps the biggest impression on Gale, however, was made by the Women’s Air Race Classic, which Gagnon encouraged to make a stop at Danville. One year, when Gale was a small child, a pilot told her and her mother that she needed to take a quick trip in her plane and asked her if she would like to fly with her.
“My mom didn’t even get a chance to answer, and I just saved her,” she said. “I ran to her plane, opened the door and jumped in. My mum said, ‘Okay, I guess she’s leaving.’
“It was just this feeling of complete freedom and awe. It’s just a completely different perspective of seeing the world from 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 feet. And I remember it was so cool that it was a different woman. You grow up all your life reading reading and watching movies, and it’s always men who are pilots. To see that it was a woman, I remember it even at a young age, it’s was really cool.
When it came time to choose a career path, Gale decided to write about the places she felt happiest. One place topped the list: airports.
After studying for a career in air traffic control, she worked at Flightstar at Willard Airport for nearly six years, first as a flight planner and dispatcher, then as an avionics project manager. .
At the end of 2020, a friend saw her father-in-law’s old position and encouraged her to apply.
“I never thought in a million years that I would come back and run the same airport as my dad. But she was like, ‘No, I feel it in my stomach. This is your time. You have to do this And I was like, ‘Okay.’ “
After entering the interview process with low expectations, Gale beat out 40 other applicants for the job.
Now she sits behind the same desk her stepfather sat behind every day, continuing his legacy as she forges her own path.
“Even today it’s very surreal,” she said. “There’s a lot of nostalgia, of course. But I think what makes it all so exciting is that obviously my dad has done a lot at the airport, but I think a new perspective. I’m able to taking the experiences I had at FlightStar and incorporating them into my story here and moving the airport forward, it was exciting to breathe new life into the airport.