A lifetime service award in the airline industry for Joe Brauer
It was an innocuous postcard in the mail that was the start of a successful career for Joe Brauer, director of the Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport. For 45 years, Joe has worked in the airline industry and was just recently honored by the Wisconsin Airport Management Association with a lifetime service award.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career,” said Joe. “I’ve enjoyed every minute working in this industry.”
However, Joe didn’t have a clue about the airline industry when he graduated from high school in 1969. He was raised in Door County, the oldest of six on a dairy farm. After graduating high school his intentions were to attend technical college and become a diesel mechanic. Then that postcard arrived in the mail.
“It said ‘Want to see the world?’” Joe laughed. “It was from the Gale Institute in Minneapolis and I thought ‘Why not?’”
So Joe sent the card in and two days later there was a knock at the door.
“It was a representative from the school and he convinced me to sign up,” said Joe. “This school taught students how to work in the airline industry to be anything from a flight attendant to a customer service agent.”
Joe’s dad sold a couple of cows to pay for the $800 tuition fee for the two month course.
The transition from country farm boy to big city life was quite an eye opener for this farm boy.
“Talk about a country bumpkin,” he said. “It was a real learning experience.”
But Joe excelled in his classes and had a job before he even received a diploma. He started his career in Appleton for Air Wisconsin as a customer service agent. This was the early 1970s, before computers were mainstream and Joe learned quick how to schedule passengers basically by hand.
“A customer would call and tell you where they wanted to go,” he said. “Then I would have to find a route by calling other airlines to see when each plane was scheduled to take off. It was a lot more work and a lot more complicated than it is today with computers helping schedule and book flights.”
Joe also loaded and unloaded baggage, fueled planes, worked the ticket counter, made sure the runway was safe for landings and departures, and any other job that needed to be done to keep the airport safe and efficient.
After a few years, Joe transferred to Sheboygan to work for Mid State Airlines, doing the same duties but by now he had decided to set his sights on becoming an airport manager.
“I really liked the industry and learned all I could about it,” he said. “I thought going into management would be a good fit for me.”
In 1977, he left Sheboygan to take a job working at an airport in Marshfield then in Stevens Point as director of customer service.
He came to the Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport in 1990 as the station manager for Air Wisconsin and he couldn’t have been happier.
“My wife, Mary, used to vacation in the Crandon area as a child, so when we got married naturally that’s where we would head to vacation,” Joe said. “We would always visit Rhinelander and I thought it was one of the most beautiful and friendliest towns I had ever been in. I was really happy when I got the job here.”
But soon after landing this dream job, Air Wisconsin discontinued and Joe was distraught.
“I had just bought a house and my kids were in school here,” he said. “I was a little panicked.”
Then Bob Heck, airport chairman, approached Joe to take the job of airport manager. Joe jumped at the chance and has never looked back.
“This is where I wanted to be,” said Joe. “So I felt very lucky to get this job.”
And Joe’s enthusiasm and hard work ethic have paid off for Rhinelander’s airport. Since he has been at the helm, this facility has grown and prospered in remarkable ways.
Under Joe’s leadership the airport has received the Federal Aviation Administration Airport Safety Excellence Award and the Balchen/Post National Award for outstanding achievement in airport snow and ice control. Joe was also responsible for the Rhinelander airport to acquire the first commercial inferred de-icing facility in the country and the first in the nation to implement a non-motorized disable passenger lift. Joe was also responsible for acquiring the first floor boarding bridge for regional aircraft. Over the years he has garnered several big ticket grants that have been used to improve the terminal and the runways as well.
In addition to this recent award, Joe was honored as Wisconsin Aviation Person of the Year a few years back and received the Federal Security Director’s Award of Excellence for his outstanding support of the administration’s management and employees. He’s also served as past president of the Wisconsin Airport Management Association.
With all this success, Joe has never wished to be anywhere else than Rhinelander or to even learn how to fly a plane.
“I have never aspired to be a pilot or work in a bigger facility,” he said. “I like smaller airports like Rhinelander. There’s less politics and it’s more personable.”
Joe received his award last week at a luncheon in Wausau and he readily admits his success was not his doing alone.
“I’ve had some wonderful mentors over the years,” he said. “People like Harry Chaplin, Preston Wilbourne and Roy Shwery who are in the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in Oshkosh.”
He also attributes a lot of his success to the Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport Commission and to the dedicated employees that work with him.
“It has been my privilege and honor to work with all these people over the years,” he said. “It’s great winning awards but you don’t do it alone. Without this great group of people this airport wouldn’t be where it is today.”