Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

November 15, 2013

Airport detailed at Farm-City Banquet

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Andy Allen, the Batesville Farm-City Banquet master of ceremonies and Kiwanis Club of Batesville president, noted, “As we gather here again this evening, we are reminded of the many diverse backgrounds, skills, interests and, above all, work ethics vital within a successful community. As principal of Batesville High School, I find particular value in our current students witnessing firsthand the very essence of a community event and recognizing the responsibility they will inherit to keep Batesville, Ind., a community without rivals in regards to values, family, agriculture, business, education and civic pride. As we progress through the program tonight, we will see many displays of preparation, hard work, achievement and commitment to Batesville.”

The 54th annual dinner Nov. 12 at the Batesville Middle School Commons was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Batesville, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Batesville High School FFA chapter.

Mayor Rick Fledderman said, “This is a longstanding tradition in our community. It’s great to see such a large crowd here tonight.” In fact, there were 187 guests, 14 FFA members and one adviser, said FFA Secretary Hayley Huntington.

FFA officers conducted a short business meeting after the turkey meal. Guests learned the chapter currently has $20,612 in savings, according to Treasurer Chad Emsweller. On Nov. 1 – a late Halloween – members collected 338 items that were donated to the Batesville food pantry. FFA will ask the school board to approve an overnight trip to the 2014 national convention in Louisville, Ky. Vice President Megan Doll proposed selling fruit at the banquet because “it will help promote healthy eating habits in our community,” and members approved the idea. Area residents who want to participate in the fruit fundraiser may contact FFA adviser Cassie Mumaw soon at 934-4384.

Former Batesville High School agriculture teacher Louis Ferringer, whose FFA soil judges placed second and third nationally, recounted how he began the first local Farm-City Banquet. “In 1954, President Eisenhower, in his State of the Union address, initiated the concept of a Farm-City Week program.” The first banquet, organized by the U.S. secretary of agriculture and sponsored by Kiwanians, took place in October 1955 at a USDA research farm in Maryland.

It took a while for the idea to spread to the Midwest. In summer 1960, Ferringer was one of nine high school ag teachers invited to a meeting by the Ripley County extension agent to plan Farm-City Week events. As the only one who attended, he gathered a committee, which hosted the first banquet Nov. 22, 1960, at the former Westwood Elementary School, now Batesville Intermediate School.

The annual dinner later was held at St. Louis School, then St. John’s United Church of Christ, Huntersville. According to Ferringer, “One year we had a poster contest for the youth. Another time we had a grain show.” Other activities included tours of local farms and industries. He believed Batesville’s banquet is one of the oldest Farm-City events in the U.S.

Charles “Shorty” Whittington, Grammer, owner of Batesville Aviation Services, was the keynote speaker. He reported he asked his wife, “‘Can you believe in your wildest dreams I’d be invited to speak at a program like this?’ She said, ‘Shorty, you’ve never been in my wildest dreams.’”

No stranger to agriculture, Whittington has lived on a farm since he was 2. “We used to raise sweet corn and tomatoes.” One year the family picked 90 acres of tomatoes by hand.The former FFA chapter president attended a two-room school in Grammer that had outhouses. The Columbus High School and Purdue University graduate was Purdue Pete as a senior.

In 1972, the self-made man began a grain and trucking business and became the Indiana Motor Truck Association chairman.

The owner and president of Integrity Biofuels, Morristown, started the plant in 2005. He called the venture “the most rewarding ... and hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never lost so much money in my life, but it’s coming around. I can produce 12,000 gallons out of soybean oil, enough to run every tractor and truck in this room! That’s what agriculture is all about.”

Last year Whittington began another adventure when he purchased a private airport in rural Batesville from Hill-Rom Holdings and Hillenbrand Inc., at the time one of six owned by businesses in the whole United States.

His PowerPoint presentation called the airport “The Most Important Mile of Pavement in Franklin County.”

The story began in 1960, when Daniel Hillenbrand, now deceased, broke ground for the runway. “Fifty-two years and 12 days later, the airport was closed .... It was a really sad day. I got wind of it. I was wanting an airplane that would go faster.” Why not buy an airport, too?

Whittington said he and the personnel care about the newly-opened public airport “because aviation is in our blood, and we are dedicated to providing regional economic growth, superior aircraft maintenance and first-class customer service for personal and corporate aircraft.”

He admitted, “We’ve had some real challenges in moving this thing forward.” When he bought the facility in December, the owner thought just proper documents filed in Indianapolis were needed for the airport to go from private to public. “About eight months and $2 million later, we’re almost there.” Workers have extended the runway environment with retaining walls and landfill, moved a fence and made the runway 6 feet wider on the east side to comply with new FAA regulations. In the future, a vacant 5 acres might be used for private hangars.

According to the personable man, “We have put together a very successful team of people.” All worked at the airport when it closed and together have over 270 years of experience in aviation and customer service.

In addition to aircraft maintenance, Batesville Aviation Services offers these assets: catering for in-flight dining, heated hangars, ramp tie-down space, a terminal and administration building, jet fuel, Wi-Fi, conference room, pilot lounge and rental cars. It is licensed as a Cessna aircraft repair facility.

Whittington is hopeful the airport will be a boon to the area’s economy. Pointing to a state map that showed regional airports, he observed that in southeastern Indiana, “there’s a void” that the new company will fill.

According to a 2012 Indiana Airports’ Economic Impact Study, Hoosier airports are responsible for 69,149 jobs, a $4.1 billion payroll and whopping $14.1 billion economic output. “That’s big.”

Here he projected that six jobs could grow to 23 and that 300 airport users could triple to 1,000 in the future. Of the $400,000 payroll, the owner predicted, “That can get up to $1.3 million pretty quick.”

Of the airport, Whittington noted, “We think it’s a real, real value to the community. We’re open for business.” He invited citizens to tour the facility.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.