Hubert "Jerry" Dwyer
MASON CITY | Hubert "Jerry" Dwyer was remembered Monday as a great pilot who devoted his life to aviation.
Dwyer, 85, died Saturday at the Muse-Norris Hospice Inpatient unit.
He is known to many in North Iowa as the man on duty at Mason City Municipal Airport in the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1959, when the plane carrying singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson "The Big Bopper" took off and crashed in a field a few minutes later. All three singers were killed as was pilot Roger Peterson.
Dwyer found the wreckage. The crash came to be known by the song lyric "the day the music died." Dwyer was interviewed by media from all over the world for the next 50 years about his memories of that night.
But North Iowa aviation enthusiasts remember him for far more than one fateful night.
Pam Osgood, manager of the Mason City Municipal Airport, said, "I knew Jerry for over 25 years and his legacy at the airport began long before then. His love of aviation was known by all who met him throughout his lifetime.
"Jerry shared so many wonderful stories with me over the years of his love of aviation from the time he was a young boy and his life long passion of flying. Each story was unique and I always enjoyed hearing them. His detailed recollection of each one truly kept your interest. Jerry will be missed."
Joni Dunn, a licensed pilot and longtime chairwoman of the Airport Commission, said, "Jerry was the finest pilot I have ever known. It was a natural thing with him, a God-given gift. He dedicated his life to aviation."
Dunn said she and her husband, Mike, both got their pilot licenses from Dwyer. She remembers vividly going up in a plane with Dwyer during her training and how he would simulate dangerous situations and ask her "Now, what would you do?"
"He was a wonderful teacher," she said.
Tom Hovland, a license pilot and current chairman of the Airport Commission, said, "I started flying with Jerry. When he was teaching you, there were three things you needed — a pilot, a teacher and a nice day.
"He was a phenomenal pilot. He was cool, calm and collected under pressure and in North Iowa, he was the go-to guy in aviation for many years."
Hovland said there wasn't much Dwyer couldn't do in a plane. "Jerry could fly anything. He'd just jump in it and away he'd go."
But he had another trait he will be remembered for, said Hovland. "He was a class act."
Dwyer started flying at the age of 13. By age 15, he owned his first plane, a 1939 Aeronca Chief. He was so young, the plane had to be registered in his father's name, according to Globe Gazette files.
In 1949, he joined the Air National Guard and soon earned his commercial and instructor ratings. He started Dwyer Aircraft in Oelwein in 1952 and moved to Charles City two years later to become the airport manager there.
He then relocated to Mason City in 1957 as airport manager and started one of the first commuter flights from Mason City to Minneapolis.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame and had clocked more than 40,000 flight hours.
In 2008, Dwyer received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award, both from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Arrangements are pending at Ward-VanSlyke Colonial Chapel, Clear Lake.