Albert Grazzini, avid aviator and accountant: Twin Cities native was the force behind Thunderbird Aviation

-- Feb. 12--Albert Grazzini was serving his country during World War II when his passion for flying took wings. As a member of the Army's 38th Air Depot, he was stationed in Italy, staffing a parts depot. His job was to keep B-24 Liberators...


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Feb. 12--Albert Grazzini was serving his country during World War II when his passion for flying took wings. As a member of the Army's 38th Air Depot, he was stationed in Italy, staffing a parts depot. His job was to keep B-24 Liberators in the air.

"That was his first exposure to aviation," said his daughter, Ann Grazzini-Dunne of Burnsville.

Though an accountant by trade, Grazzini often flew with his cousin and brother-in-law as a member of the Minneapolis National Air Guard unit following the war. He later joined a flying club at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, and when it ran into financial challenges, Grazzini put his business acumen to work. He paid off the debts and took over the club, which in the early 1960s became Thunderbird Aviation.

Grazzini died of frontal-lobe dementia with aphasia Sunday at English Rose Suites in Edina. He was 88.

One of the oldest fixed-base operations in the Midwest, Thunderbird Aviation grew to offer airplane rental, aircraft sales and flight training. The company was one of the first in Minnesota to serve as a Piper dealership. By 1975, Thunderbird Aviation started operations at airports in Crystal, Owatonna, Minn., and Phoenix. Grazzini also founded the Academy of Aviation, an aviation training school, his family said.

He served as president of the Minnesota Aviation Trades Association in 1969-70 and helped pass legislation allowing aircraft dealers to delay paying state sales tax until aircraft were sold or in use for one year. He was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.

Born in Minneapolis, Grazzini graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1939 and earned an accounting degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 1950. He started work with the firm Schuelien, Grazzini and Engdahl in the 1950s. He served as a consultant to individuals and businesses, including Medtronic Inc. when the Fridley-based medical technology company was in its infancy, his daughter said.

He worked for another accounting firm, Grizzini and Pacquay, and owned the Academy of Accountancy, now called Academy College in Bloomington.

"Business was a love and a hobby, and family was his life," Grazzini-Dunne said.

Grazzini took the lead in organizing his high school reunions and get-togethers for members of the 38th Air Depot.

He also was active with the Minneapolis Jaycees, the Minneapolis Aquatennial and the Sertoma Club, his family said.

In addition to his daughter Ann, Grazzini is survived by two sons, Thomas of Apple Valley and Joseph of Pine City, Minn.; four other daughters, Mary Erickson of Savage, Nancy Olson of Lakeville, Claire Tucker of Farmington and Sandy (Sam) Grazzini-Rucki of Lakeville; a brother, Edward, of Orono; 21 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Church of the Risen Savior, 1501 County Road 42, Burnsville. Visitation will take place one hour before services at the church.

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