the voice of cvg

Ted Bushelman remembers being frightened just once during his childhood.

"I was about 5 or 6 and you were pulling my hand through a corn field," Bushelman told his father, Bill, many years later. "We were in a hurry."

"Don't you remember where we were headed?" Bill Bushelman asked his son. "To a groundbreaking at the airport." It was likely the 1943 groundbreaking of a military practice field.

For professionals who deal daily with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and even those longtime residents who simply watch the news or read the newspaper, it seems Ted Bushelman has been the voice and face of the airport since the first commercial DC-3 touched down 60 years ago.

He nearly has.

Bushelman became the facility's first senior director of communications on Oct. 1, 1967.

Forty years later, at age 71, he has been the only senior director of communications at an airport that has grown to become the 30th largest in the nation, and a hub and international departure point for one of the nation's bggest carriers, Delta Air Lines.

Taking the job was was the most turbulent career takeoff Bushelman could have anticipated. Just 30 days into his career, on Nov. 6, 1967, TWA Flight 157, a Boeing 707, overshot the runway during an aborted takeoff. Eleven of 29 passengers were injured; one of the injured died four days later.

Journalists rushed to the scene and started doing their jobs -- asking questions. Bushelman's boss at the time gave his fresh-on- the-job PR man his orders: "Go hide."

"I was new. He told me to hide, so I did," Bushelman said. "It was a learning experience."

Bushelman watched news coverage that night and discovered reporters had found someone else to talk. "It was the janitor. They had the wrong airline and the wrong runway. I was mad."

Bushelman vowed to never hide from -- or even avoid -- the press again. He considers them all -- even the most aggressive of reporters -- his professional friends. And it is his job to help them do theirs with accurate information.

"As far as I know, I have never lied to a member of the media," Bushelman said. "I have said, 'I can't answer that question (because of public safety) or, 'I can't answer it, until I get more information.' But to the best of my knowledge, I have never lied."

Bushelman isn't just the face of the airport. He oversees its telecommunications operations and is credited with starting many of its departments. Sign making and the opening of a cell-phone lot, a space where friends and relatives can wait for passengers, have been a few of his ideas.

But you can think of a lot of innovative ideas when you put in 14- hour days.

Bushelman suffered from polio as a child. He wasn't expected to live, let alone walk. He credits an artificial heart valve doctors inserted 15 years ago with not only giving him a second wind, but making him feel healthier than ever. "I had struggled all my life (with a leaking valve) and I thought I was supposed to feel that way," he says. "After the surgery, I felt great."

Keeping up with this 71-year-old on a work day means quick car trips from one meeting to the next.

There are bank dedications, meetings with the airport board, a Boone County Businessmen's Association meeting, and Florence Freedom baseball games, which Bushelman produces for the volunteer Cable One Television he founded many years ago.

"If everyone in our community spent a tenth the amount of time that Ted does, being involved in its betterment, we would never be lacking for volunteers to move important projects forward," said Florence Mayor Diane Whalen, who once served as Bushelman's airport assistant. "Ted's list of community involvement and accomplishments is a very long one -- he is not only a member of these groups, but is actively involved."

To list all of the organizations he has served and awards given to him might fill might fill a page. From serving on the Board of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to being a member of the Florence Lions Club, they are varied.

Bushelman's been named businessman of the year, citizen of the year and honored by the Northern Kentucky Chamber for his civic service. He's also a past recipient of the Public Relations Society of America's public relations Man of the Year.

His college degrees are as diverse. Bushelman has a degree in education from the University of Cincinnati, a degree in radio and TV production from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and an electrical engineering degree.

He is serving his fourth term on Florence City Council. "I raised five kids in the city of Florence, and I want everyone else to be able to do the same," he says.

From a single terminal in 1947, Bushelman has watched the airport grow into a major international gateway. It now serves as many passengers in one year as it handled in its first two decades. In 2005, the airport peaked at a record 22.8 million passengers and 670 daily departures.

Through all of the changes, Bushelman has been its constant communicator.

"I don't think I have ever received a complaint about Ted," says his current boss, Robert Holscher, the airport's director of aviation since 1975 and one employee who has been at the airport longer than Bushelman. "I respect him for his ability and craft. He keeps the public well-informed."

There have certainly been ups and downs. And several crashes after that first one.

On Nov. 20, 1967, Bushelman had the opportunity to use his newfound PR skills when TWA Flight 128 crashed on approach to the airport, killing 70 out of 82 persons on board.

On Oct. 8, 1979, Comair Flight 444, crashed shortly after killing seven passengers and its pilot.

And what may have been the most remembered, the June 2, 1983, Air Canada Flight 797, that made an emergency landing at Cincinnati after a cabin fire. Twenty-three of the 41 passengers died of smoke inhalation or fire injuries, including Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers. All five crew members survived.

"At one point after a crash I was worried about myself because I had shown no emotion," said Bushlelman. "Then one day, I was walking through the morgue and tripped. I looked down and there was a part of a little doll. I lost it. Then, I felt normal."

Bushelman still tears up as he recounts that moment.

Then he takes a few minutes to take care of some routine business. He returns a call to a local news station. A reporter has heard that a fallen soldier's remains will land at the airport that afternoon. Bushelman has checked it out and determined it is likely a rumor.

"I had a call from a man one day who had lost his false teeth in the men's restroom in Terminal 2," Bushelman says. "I made a call to housekeeping, and they had found his teeth next to the sink."

Bushelman admits there are days he barely sees his wife, Gloria. But he always finds downtime to take her on outings such as with longtime friends Alan and Mary Bernstein.

"Ted is just a genuinely good person," says Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats. "He's just a great asset to the community. I couldn't want a better friend."

"I made a lot of good friends and matured a lot," Bushelman says of his years on the job.

So when will he retire? He laughs when asked that.

Bushelman said he recently answered some extensive questions on a Web site, and doctors predicted his age of death. "They said based on my answers I will die when I am 86, so I tell people I will retire when I am 85."

That's nearly 15 years away.

But Bushelman says, "After 40 years, the airport is another family. Why leave?"

"I love my job. I am just a guy who is having fun with life."