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Overman, airport staff honor distinguished pilot
November 05, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen Airport Authority Board Chairman Don Overman thanks Keeta Thompson for her years of service to the aviation industry.

Community members gathered last week to help celebrate as the Donald E. Overman Terminal building observed its 10th anniversary at Western Nebraska Regional Airport.

Don Overman, the building’s namesake and chairman of the airport authority board, said he was excited to observe the anniversary, but he was there for a bigger honor.

On behalf of the airport board, Overman presented a plaque to long-time local pilot La Qujita “Keeta” Thompson as a “Distinguished Nebraska Aviator.” The award will hang permanently in the recently constructed conference facility in the airport terminal.

Thompson, who will turn 85 later this year, began her flying career in 1976, taking flying lessons from Bill Heilig, for whom the airport is named.

Only 20 months after she got her private pilot’s license, shequalified as a commercial and instrument rated pilot and a flight instructor. In 1981, she received her Air Transport Pilot rating, becoming the second woman to achieve that rating.

In 1982, she was named Flight Instructor of the Year by the FAA Central Region in Kansas City. That was followed the next year by the Outstanding Service Award from the Nebraska Department of Avionics, and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Sparkplug Award in 1984. She was also instrumental in getting the local EAA local chapter 608 organized.

Thompson was named to the Nebraska Airline Board in 1990 and the Nebraska Avionics Board in 1991.

Overman said another highlight of her career was teaching her sons to fly. She got to fly a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis. She’s also flown for the National Geographic Society, the National Park Service and ConAgra, logging more than 7,800 of flight time.

“Keeta had every rating you could get, including gliders,” Overman said. “She loved to fly.”

Growing up in Hastings near the Air Force base, Thompson said she’s wanted to fly since she was about 10.

“That dream stayed with me until I took my first flying lessons,” she said. “My greatest joy was to just be in the sky, where God lives.”

She also admitted she had no idea here family would be present for the award presentation, but it brought tears to her eyes.

Darwin Skelton has been the airport manager the entire 10 years the new terminal has been open.

He said he receives frequent comments from the public about how nice the facility is. Recent additions included a larger secure seating area with restrooms and a new conference room.
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