It’s not every day that you honor someone in the community after 35 years of service, so it was my distinct pleasure on Wednesday, Oct. 15 to join Ed Schmidt, President of Baron Aviation Services, Inc. and other members of the Rolla National Airport community in recognizing the contributions that Lee Maples has made to the Rolla community.
It was actually 50 years ago on October 15, 1958 that Mr. Maples, a respected businessman and aviator, was hired by the City of Rolla and then Rolla Mayor Eugene Northern as the first manager of Rolla National Airport (RNA) where he served the needs of the airport and local aviation community until 1967.
The proclamation I presented to Mr. Maples at Baron Aviation headquarters at Rolla National Airport was the City’s way of saying how much Lee was respected, appreciated and remembered by the City of Rolla, the staff at Baron Aviation Services, Inc. and staff at Rolla National Airport. If anyone could tell you the history of Rolla National Airport before and after it was an abandoned U.S. military Army Airfield where World War II pilots once trained, it would have to be Lee Maples. In fact Mr. Maples liked Rolla National Airport so much he moved into one of the abandoned Army barracks when he was hired as the airport manager. He lived there with his family until 1970. The stories that he fondly recalls during his days at the Rolla National Airport are the stuff that books and novels are written about.
A U.S. Army veteran, who served and flew planes in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946 (he enlisted on Oct. 15, 1943), Lee transformed Rolla National Airport from a run-down, derelict military base to a thriving airport. Not long after his nine-year stint as the first manager at Rolla National Airport, Lee started Maples Aviation in 1967 where he was a local Cessna aircraft dealer, charter operator, and flight instructor for aviators and ROTC Flight Cadets attending Missouri S&T (then known as Missouri School of Mines). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Mr. Maples along with Ed Schmidt, President of Baron Aviation Services, Inc., had contracts with the Forest Service to provide air tanker support for wild fire control in Missouri’s national forests using a pair of converted WW-II vintage aircraft. It was during this time that Lee began fostering relationships and began attracting businesses such as Kingsford Charcoal, Missouri S&T (then know as Missouri School of Mines), Brewer Science and various other businesses and state agencies who needed to fly in and out of the area for business. The impact of the early in-roads Lee made to encourage air transport and business development in and around Rolla National Airport continues to live on with more businesses and state agencies using the airport to conduct business, tour the Rolla area or just touch down long enough to have their plane refueled for the next leg of their journey.
In 1973 Mr. Maples, along with his long-time friend and business associate Ed Schmidt, started Baron Aviation Services, Inc., which is headquartered at Rolla National Airport. The privately owned company, and largest employer at RNA, provides contractual services for FedEx Express Services, and operates a fleet of 36 Cessna Caravans for FedEX.
So it was doubly fitting that on Oct. 15, 2008 that Lee was honored and recognized by the members of the Baron Aviation team at Rolla National Airport in celebrating not only the 35th anniversary of Baron Aviation, but the contributions Lee has made throughout his career to Baron Aviation, the Rolla National Airport, and residents and businesses in South Central Missouri.