Founder of Mesaba Airlines Dies at 93

Gordon Newstrom, the Grand Rapids aviation pioneer who founded Mesaba Airlines, died Sunday of leukemia. He was 93.

"He was a legend," his brother, Don Newstrom, said Tuesday.

Gordon Newstrom began the company as Mesaba Aviation in 1944 in Coleraine with one plane that shuttled Blandin Paper Co. employees to the Twin Cities. "Gordy started out with about $500 and a J3 Cub... and it grew and grew and grew," his brother said.

Mesaba is the eighth-largest regional airline in the United states, with service to more than 100 cities. Newstrom sold the company to the Halverson family of Duluth. It is now owned by Mair Holdings and operates as a Northwest Airlines Airlink affiliate.

When Gordon Newstrom was about 16 "he was just obsessed with learning to fly," Don Newstrom said.

World War II provided him the opportunity. With just 50 hours of flight time under his belt, he was training Navy cadets to fly in the war.

He flew so much that he stopped logging his time. "Gordy quit keeping track of his hours at about 40,000," Don Newstrom said. "He spent a lot of time in the air."

Newstrom was a flight instructor at the Grand Rapids airfield that now bears his name. He also was considered one of Minnesota's premiere float flying instructors and wrote a book, "Fly a Seaplane," which sold about 10,000 copies.

He worked with U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar to promote aviation as well, Don Newstrom said. "He was very aggressive. If the city needed money for the airport, he'd go after it," he said.

In 1995, Gordon Newstrom was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. An active and well-liked member of the community, he was named Grand Rapids Citizen of the Year in 1966.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Sylvia, and children. Their daughter, Marsha Lynn, died as a child. Their son, Keith, was pilot of a charter plane that disappeared in Alaska in 1984 and was never found. He is survived by his brother, nieces, nephews and cousins.

Funeral services are scheduled at 11 a.m. Friday at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids.

Duluth News Tribune

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