Aviation a way of life for family

Pat recalls growing up that it was “daylight to dark” seven days a week at the Conway airport. Both of her parents were involved in the operation of the airport, so it was natural that she too would spend time there and her children, William and Bryant, as well.

“Rarely were all three of us at my house during the day,” she said. “We were at the airport. It’s where we were supposed to be. As a child, I don’t remember life without the airport.”

It was at the airport that the Cantrells instilled life values – like honesty and the importance of helping others – on Pat and their grandchildren. A sign hung on one of the hangers at Cantrell Field read “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.”

Originally from Greenbrier where his family ran a general store, Dennis attended Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) on a baseball scholarship. He also played minor league for the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Later, when presented with an opportunity to learn to fly, Dennis discovered his love for aviation. He received his private pilot’s license in 1937 in Bastrop, La., while playing semi-pro baseball and working at a Ford dealership. He later went on to earn other licenses for flight instruction, maintenance inspection and mechanics, which he kept current through age 85 despite stringent physical and coursework requirements.

Pat said her dad – who fondly called her “Punkin Seed” – loved flying so much they wondered “why he didn’t jump off a barn and try to fly.”

Dennis returned to Conway to teach flight training for the government and work as a mechanic during World War II. In 1948, he made an application and was awarded a lease for the Conway airport. He operated the airport for 45 years. He retired from business in 1986. “From maintenance to flight instruction to the instruction of new mechanics, he has helped everyone possible,” William wrote about his grandfather.

The city of Conway honored Dennis by naming the airport Cantrell Field.

He assisted customers from throughout the state as well as adjoining states. He was proud of the quality repairs, rebuilds and engine overhauls that Cantrell’s Aero Service completed.

Pat discovered a unique quality about her parents while attending college. When her classmates talked about their parents and their professions, it became obvious that they did not enjoy their work. “That idea was foreign to me. I thought you worked because you liked it,” she said, referring to the example her mother and father had set.

With both parents pilots, Pat followed suit and had her first solo at age 16. She has fond memories of flying the family’s seaplane – including water skiing behind it –  and outings to places like Bull Shoals and the White River. “I flew the seaplane off Beaverfork a lot,” she said. “We had a lot of different experiences, but I didn’t think it was any different than anyone else.”

Appropriately, Pat and her husband, Bill, had their first date on the day he had his first flying lesson. Their courtship included night-time flights over Central Arkansas. Bill’s father was an air traffic controller.

Like their mom, William and Bryant also had their first solo flights at 16. “They are both excellent pilots,” Pat said.

Today, William works as a pilot for an individual. Bryant flies with Satterfield Oil. William has a stunt plane, and he and his mother enjoy going for rides in it.

“It’s just part of us,” said Pat. “Aviation was our whole life. It still is.”