By Wayne Campbell
Dorothy Rungeling now looks out on the airfield bearing her name.
A painting by Pelham artist Martha Southwell, finally, found its place in the administration building of the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport last Saturday, June 22.
Southwell painted the portrait of Rungeling and gave it to the pioneering female pilot in 2014. The pair intended it for a memorial, possibly at the Pelham Public Library.
The portrait stood behind a 104-year-old Rungeling when the airport commission announced a renaming of the Niagara Central Airport. It added “Dorothy Rungeling” in 2015 making it the first Canadian airport named for a woman.
In the 1950s, Rungeling helped to save the “Welland Airport” by promoting its commercial as well as its recreational value. She drew attention to it through her air racing role, her flying school and her promotional writing on aviation.
During the Second World War, the airport was used by the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of its pilot and aircrew program: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
After the war, the airport’s future fell into doubt. That’s when Rungeling stepped in.
Today, it is run by an airport commission connected to the municipalities of Pelham, Welland, Wainfleet and Port Colborne. For a long-time, it was called the “Welland-Port Colborne Airport.”
Rungeling died at age 106 in 2018. Her portrait was returned to Southwell for safekeeping.
On Saturday, it became part of an airport event celebrating Rungeling’s life-long role in female aviation.
The 43rd Air Race Classic, an airport-hopping race by small planes from the southern United States, ended at Dorothy’s airport. Rungeling flew in similar races in the 1950s. Saturday’s event included the unveiling of a plaque marking the event and her contributions.
Also dedicated Saturday was a large Ninety-Nines compass painted on the airfield to mark a helicopter landing spot. Rungeling was the first Canadian woman to fly a helicopter solo at a Fort Erie helicopter plant.
The Pelham resident was life-long a member of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. It was formed by Amelia Earhart in 1929 when she sent out invitations to women pilots to join – ninety-nine replied. It is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
In her portrait, Martha Southwell shows Dorothy Rungeling with her aviation medals and the Order of Canada, which she received in 2002 for her achievements in aviation and community service.
Southwell, who has a special interest in aviation art, said she is delighted with Dorothy’s portrait’s position as she overlooks her airport.
(Wayne Campbell is a retired journalist living in Welland who worked on newspapers in southern Ontario and British Columbia.)