September 23, 2013
by Julie Swidwa
Flo lands at airport
||Don Campbell / HP staff
Flo Shepard, office manager at the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport
is pictured Friday. The 72-year-old has a lot of experience in the air,
having worked for United Airlines.
Flo Shepard has been up in the air a lot in her life, but now she’s enjoying
the ground game
fitting that the view out Flo Shepard’s huge office window includes an
airport runway. She’s been around airplanes all her adult life. She’s flown
all over the world. As the office manager at the Southwest Michigan Regional
Airport in Benton Harbor, Shepard does a little bit of everything –
including, she jokes, keeping airport manager Lee Scherwitz in line. At 72,
she said she has no immediate plans to retire.
Although she was born and raised in Chicago, her family had a summer house
on Paw Paw Lake even before she was born. So she feels at home in Southwest
Michigan. She and her husband live
in Hartford. Shepard chatted recently with Herald-Palladium Staff
Writer Julie Swidwa.
Tell me about how you ended up living and working here.
I’ve been here since 2000. We moved up here when my children were in grammar
school. They had 56 kids in their classroom in Chicago and they weren’t
doing very well. So we decided to move to Michigan. My husband Larry works
over at R.A. Mort Supply.
Where did you work before?
I worked for United Airlines in Chicago, right out of high school. I was a
secretary. Then I went into reservations. It was exciting at that age. The
traveling – I got free travel because I worked for the airlines. I’ve flown
a lot. I’ve been around the world. I’m very content now to spend my time in
Michigan. I enjoy the slow lifestyle. The people know you and they’re
friendly. You can go into a restaurant and they call you by name. They know
what you want before you order it. You don’t ever have that in Chicago.
Was Lee the director when you started here?
I came as a temp, and they hired Lee right after that. Lee knelt down here
and begged me to stay. He gave me a short leash and told me I could keep him
on it, if I’d only stay. He actually gave me his references, and I wouldn’t
call them but he called them for me and made me talk to them, about what a
nice person he was to work for.
So what’s he like to work for?
Oh, he’s wonderful. I can tell him what to do. That doesn’t mean he does it.
It goes in one ear and out the other. But he lets me do it.
Tell me about what you do as the office manager.
I’m the office manager but I do everything. We only have three full-time
people – Lee, myself and a fella who started in January who replaced John
Chaddock, who’d been here for 40 years. So Mike is learning the maintenance
and field operations, Lee does all the political and all that kind of stuff,
and I do the work while everybody else does their thing. I do accounts
receivable, accounts payable, I pay the bills, I do everything, and I love
it because I can sort of do it at my own pace. As long as I get everything
done nobody bugs me. I have no reason to retire. Something will cause me to
retire, but I don’t have anything pushing me out the door.
That’s great, to be happy in a job at what could be retirement age.
When you get older you can say what you want because you’ve sort of earned
the right to offer your opinion. You can offer your opinion, and it carries
a little more weight than when you were younger.
What do you like to do besides your job?
I have (three) dogs. I was very involved with dogs for years and years. I
used to do tracking and obedience. It got to the point physically where it
got to be too hard for me. My daughter has four horses, and I have one. I
would like to ride again. It’s on my bucket list. My horse is only a year
old. She’s not old enough to ride yet. But I intend to.
Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d want people to know about you?
No, not really. But I should sing the praises of the airport. I think the
airport’s fantastic. When we got here things were terrible. This was not a
nice place to be. Financially it was a terrible place, and now everybody
says “Whoa, what did you guys do?” It’s no secret. We just ran it like it’s
a business. You don’t spend money unless you’ve got it to spend. That’s my
solution. Don’t spend money if you don’t have it.
You think Lee has been a big part of turning this place around?
Yes. I think the whole airport staff has, not just Lee. He cannot do it by
himself. There’s nine of us all together. The others are part-timers,
including a lot of part-time firemen. They cut grass, do maintenance, plow
snow in the winter. Around here we don’t go home if it’s snowing out. It’s a
big thing to plow snow here. One of the things we take great pride in is the
runways are always open.