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S.D. Aviation Hall of Fame adds Christenson and others

PIERRE -- The South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame adds five new members this weekend including Bernie Christenson, of Pierre. Christenson, now a self-described "young 78," moved to Pierre in 1973 and started flying part-time for Cecil Ice. In the ...

PIERRE - The South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame adds five new members this weekend including Bernie Christenson, of Pierre.

Christenson, now a self-described "young 78," moved to Pierre in 1973 and started flying part-time for Cecil Ice.

In the 43 years since, Christensen became a co-owner of the air carrier, was the FAA licensing examiner for 1,700 pilots and flew governors for decades.

The others selected for the hall this year include:

The late Grove Rathbun, of Rapid City, a past president of the South Dakota Pilots Association;

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Rich Krogstad, of Spearfish, who helped lead the fundraising drive to build the hall of fame at Spearfish;

Paul Hegg, of Sioux Falls, a pilot and businessman whose investment helped turn around Business Aviation in Sioux Falls; and Bud Sittig, of Centennial, Colorado, a 1965 graduate of South Dakota State University who became a chief pilot for United Airlines, worked in a variety of executive posts for airlines and served five years as chief of staff for the Colorado Air National Guard.

The steak fry honoring them at hall of fame at Spearfish is Saturday.

Christenson grew up at Britton, the same community where Frank Farrar began his political career as state attorney general and governor and still lives.

The state Division of Criminal Investigation is an arm of the attorney general's office, and Christenson served as a state criminal investigator for many years, rising to deputy director.

After retiring from DCI, he won election as a state legislator from the Pierre area and worked at BankWest for a period.

He later was the first executive director for the South Dakota Community Foundation that began under Gov. George S. Mickelson.

He became a partner with Jim Pietz in an air carrier business at Pierre they bought from Cecil Ice on Dec. 31, 1989. Pietz and Christenson spent 16 years in business together.

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When Mickelson made his first solo flight, Christensen cut off the governor's shirttail as is custom and still has it. That was 26 days before Mickelson and seven other men died in the 1993 crash of the state jet.

Christenson said he planned to retire from flying altogether in 2015. He agreed to continue flying this year part-time for state government.

His last flight recently came when he took Gov. Dennis Daugaard to Britton for its Capital For A Day event.

"Oh yeah, it's hard to walk away," Christenson said as he sat for an interview over black coffee in the shade on his deck Saturday morning.

But it wasn't difficult to stop being a pilot examiner or a charter pilot.

"Been there and done that," he said.

The hall of fame selection caps his career in the air.

He said his successes repeatedly came with the help of others throughout his life, such as Farrar, Ice, Mickelson and other governors he flew, Peitz and the "tremendous employees" they had at Capital City Air Carrier.

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"There is nothing left. The book has been written and I'm pretty darn proud of that book," Christenson said.

He already is in the South Dakota Hall of Fame for his overall achievements. That came three years ago. The aviation honor seems to mean a lot to him, too.

"I don't know why I pursued that (flying) with all the vigor I did, but I always wanted to be better," he said.

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