Soaring the skies at 88

Sunbeams dance and sparkle off the blue-green water of Lake Michigan as Mary Creason guides her Tiger aircraft south toward Holland.
Marie Havenga
Jun 8, 2013

Her passengers on this balmy May afternoon are a local dentist and a reporter, who feel fortunate to fly with this 88-year-old local aviation legend who has called the sky her home for the past 70 years.

Creason's tailwinds include state and national awards, numerous certifications, and a firm place in women's aviation history.

At age 18, while a student at Western Michigan University, Mary started flight lessons with Eloise Smith, an instructor in Kalamazoo.

No one knew it at the time, but flying would become a life-long gift from Mary's older sister, Mabel. Mabel was an adventurer, the kind of gal who would rather be tracing Lazy 8s in the sky with her plane than walking in high heels on the ground.

After Mabel joined the military, she gave her younger sister a share in the ownership of a plane. The gift changed young Mary's life heading and attitude indicators forever.

So did the tragic fate of the gift-giver, who perished in a plane fire and crash on Aug. 23, 1943.

Mary vividly remembers the middle-of-the-night phone call and a loud voice on the other end reading a telegram: “We regret to inform you that (Mabel) has been killed ...”

Gone were Mabel's twinkling eyes, her infectious enthusiasm and her dreams. But somewhere deep inside, Mary learned to pick up the pieces of that tangled wreck, and send her sister's spirit soaring again, through her own passionate pursuit of aviation.

Age doesn't squelch Mary's passion, now nearly 70 years since her sister's tragic death. She still makes weekly visits to hangar F-10 at Grand Haven Memorial Airport. She rolls away the heavy hangar door, completes a pre-flight inspection, and then pulls her 1991 Tiger into the sun.

Deftly, she climbs onto the wing, slips into the cockpit and powers the Tiger's engine to life.

“The first thing we do is check for oil pressure,” Mary tells her passengers. “If we don't have any oil pressure, we shut the thing down right now.”

She idles the Tiger down the runway and into position for takeoff. She notices her former plane in the flight pattern preparing to land. The pilot radios her.

“Your old Tiger still flies pretty good,” he said.

“It looks good,” Mary responds. “You take good care of it.”

Mary proceeds with a radio call: “Tiger one-one-niner-two-echo departing runway two-seven, Grand Haven.”

She throttles up the plane, gently pulls back on the yoke and lifts it into the air — a maneuver she's performed thousands of times.

“It feels like I'm home again,” Mary said.

For all the freedom and romanticism flying represents, there are rules that must be adhered to, with little time for daydreaming.

“There's more danger in takeoff than in the landing,” Mary said. “You want to be careful and be alert. Every person who is flying needs to be thinking about what they're doing all the time.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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