Opinion: Remembering a bush pilot

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Julien LePage was a high school classmate of mine. I didn’t know him very well, we just occupied the same classrooms from time to time and occasionally met at sports and social functions.

I didn’t even know his name was Julien until graduation day when the principle called for Julien Francis LePage to walk onstage and receive his diploma. Everyone called him Fuzzy, and why wouldn’t we? He had a feral head of hair that was undisciplined and totally untrainable. It just sat on his head and stuck out in all directions. He probably gave up trying to comb it at an early age and just kept it cut short.

After graduation Fuzzy did what most of us did. He got a job and aimed his life toward career and family. The family part worked out perfectly with an adoring wife and five great kids. The career, however, took a couple of surprising turns.

At first he worked as a highway patrolman in the area of Central Missouri where he grew up. But 20 years after spilling out of high school, he quit, packed up his family and moved to Warroad, Minn. just south of the Canadian border. There he bought an odd assortment of deep woods airplanes with names like Beaver and Otter and set about becoming a bush pilot.

For years he happily ferried hunters and fishermen in and out of Canadian resorts. Then, he grew restless again. For years he had been watching civilization steadily encroach on the wilderness. Then one day he flew into a resort that was so remote that the lake wasn’t even on the charts.

“As I taxied up to the pier,” he told me years later, “I noticed the whole place was lit up like a major city. Generators were humming everywhere, music blared from loudspeakers, and uniformed resort workers met the plane.”

It was too much, he said. He sold the flying service and bought another in northern Alaska where he hoped it would be quieter. It was in this largely uncharted region of the world that Fuzzy spent the final years of his flying career.

After retiring he moved to Arizona to enjoy a life of leisure. But it was only a few months before he got bored again and went back to work as a pilot for the flying service he once owned in Warroad.

After declining health finally took him out of the cockpit, he managed the airport in Warroad for several years. Fuzzy LePage died last month after suffering a massive stroke.

Some say a quiet hush fell over the northern skies.


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