Patrick Springer, Published September 12 2012
A fitting tribute: Aviator Bob Odegaard leaves legacy of ‘a Superman, yet regular guy’
Friends and well-wishers learned of that appearance Wednesday, when Odegaard, a flying legend who died Friday while practicing for an air show in Valley City, was laid to rest here.
A close friend, fellow pilot Tom Kenville, read a letter from someone who saw Odegaard fly for the former president that day. It was written by an old fighter pilot who knew he’d witnessed a display of elite flying talent.
“Bob was the best in his field and will be long remembered and respected for that,” the letter writer said in expressing condolences to the Odegaard family, in a passage Kenville read aloud at Odegaard’s funeral mass.
The letter was signed, simply, George Bush from Houston, Texas.
Odegaard, as eulogizers noted, touched the lives of many during his 66 years. He was remembered fondly as a husband, father and a towering figure in aviation, as adept at restoring a vintage war bird as he was at flying dizzying maneuvers.
In the estimation of those who knew him best, the legacy he left was that of a kind and caring person who was generous with his time and talents.
“Robert was a Superman of God,” the Rev. James Cheney told mourners who gathered at St. Maurice’s Catholic Church. “A Superman, yet a wonderfully regular guy.”
It was as a wonderfully regular guy, and a best friend, that Odegaard helped Kenville in a moment of distress. A family member had died, and on short notice he needed to fly his entire family to Texas, but lacked the certification to fly a plane large enough.
“ ‘I’ll take the trip,’ ” Kenville said, recalling Odegaard’s response. “As busy as he was, he dropped everything.”
Odegaard, who wasn’t a college graduate, used to joke that he was a perpetual student in the Kindred College of Knowledge.
“You’ve got to work with what you have,” Odegaard once quipped, after listing self-diagnosed deficits including dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.
He had a way of bringing out the best in others, Kenville said, recalling the time Odegaard kept a wealthy aircraft renovation customer waiting while he visited with a boy at the Fargo Air Museum, which he helped establish.
“I’m just a better all-around person because I knew Bob Odegaard,” Kenville said.
“Bobby made the sun be in your face, the wind at your back, except when you’re landing or taking off,” he added. “He has touched so many lives.”
So many that St. Maurice’s wasn’t able to hold all who came out to say goodbye. Some sat in the social hall of the church, which he had helped raise money to build. Others were in the choir loft and the Fredrikson-Boulger Funeral Chapel across the street.
When the funeral Mass was over and it was time for the graveside service, the procession passed landmarks that stood as testaments to Odegaard’s life – including the Kindred Davenport Regional Airport at Hamry Field and Odegaard Wings, the family aviation business.
At Kindred Cemetery, a bagpiper sounded the notes of “Amazing Grace,” and Kindred American Legion Post 117 presented funeral honors and fired a salute. Odegaard had served in the Army Reserve.
Then, eyes turned to the sky when a formation of four planes flew overhead, led by Duggy, the DC-3 Odegaard had restored and painted bright yellow for display at the Fargo Air Museum.
As the honor planes flew over Odegaard’s casket, one plane veered from the formation, trailing white smoke.
His death, Cheney said, will be a test for those left to mourn the passing of a man who had “the courage to make dreams come
“It’s going to be lonely without him here,” the priest said.
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522