William D. "Bill" Schloman and his mother Barbara Schloman didn’t set out to write a book about an airport.
But after five years of research and writing, Bill and Barbara Schloman recently published "A Century of Flight at Paton Field: The Story of Kent State University’s Airport and Flight Education," a study of the sometimes-turbulent 100-year history of the longest surviving public-use airport in Ohio that highlights the individuals who kept it alive and shows the history of aviation itself through the airport.
"It’s easy to dismiss something when you don’t know what it is. So much happened here and it isn’t what you experienced yesterday, but all the other events that occurred here. Now it has a legacy and we have to be the caretaker of that legacy," said Bill Schloman, a 1998 graduate of the Kent State University flight program who grew up under the traffic pattern of Paton Field in Stow.
When Bill Schloman first started his research, he only wanted to learn more about the history of the Kent State’s flight program, but with the airport’s centennial approaching, airport manager David Poluga asked him to delve more deeply into the history of the airport itself.
"He had done some rudimentary research and had come up with almost nothing. He had a binder with four pieces of paper in it. I said, ‘Well, my mom is a retired librarian and is good at research. Maybe I can put the two of you in contact, and she can help out with your project and I can do mine,’" Bill Schloman said.
They quickly realized, however, that the history of the flight program and the history of the airport were completely intertwined. With piles of documents, interview transcriptions, photos and artifacts, Bill and Barbara Schloman, herself a professor emeritus and former associate dean of libraries at Kent State, found that they had the makings of a book, complete with stories of individuals never before told outside of families.
"Initially we were focusing on the facts, but then we came across these names of people, some we knew, a lot we didn’t. They would end up having this incredibly amazing story, so we tried to focus a lot more on the people in it, what their stories were, how they were involved and how they contributed," Bill Schloman said.
The pair interviewed over 70 people, including Fran Hermance, the great-granddaughter of the Rev. Edward J. Smith, who purchased the land that became Stow Field and later the Kent Airport in 1889; Joe Van Devere, son of Rudy William Van Devere, who purchased Stow Field in 1940 and the quonset hut hangar as a World War II surplus; and William Andrew Paton, the son of Andrew W. Paton, who developed the Kent’s aviation technology curriculum, who helped form the Kent State University Flying Club and for whom Paton Field was named in 1964.
With each interview, their gaps in knowledge became smaller and smaller as individuals provided more and more details they thought they had forgotten. The Schlomans were also able to pull from a vast amount of online resources, including trade magazines from the 1940s.
"It was a real crosspoint. While the digital record greatly increased, the people alive during those events we missed by a couple years. If this project had happened 10 years ago, we would have had tenfold the people, but probably a fifth of the resources available online, so it’s that balancing act," Bill Schloman said.
Throughout the entire process, the mother-son duo focused on their respective interests — the flight program for Bill and the airport for Barbara — and provided much-needed encouragement if their counterpart’s enthusiasm was waning.
"There’s a point where you have this deep personal connection, so that’s really good. On the other hand, you want to make sure you preserve that. We did have some bumpy spots, not between us necessarily, but things work out. I think we were pretty good at that," Barbara Schloman said.
Now that the book is finished, Bill and Barbara Schloman donated digital images and collected artifacts to the Kent State Special Collections and Archives, essentially creating an airport collection.
The Schlomans are still looking for more people to interview about the airport and the flight program. They can be reached at email@example.com.
The book is currently for sale through its publisher, the Kent State University Press, and on Amazon, and will be available for purchase and signing at the Kent Aeronautics and Engineering Expo on Sept. 7 at the airport. They are also planning an October book launch at the airport. Details will be announced later.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.