After more than two decades at the helm of the AirSho, Walstad and Schroeder to retire

FARGO -- One fall day in 1988, Dick Walstad picked up his morning paper and discovered that he and his colleague Darrol Schroeder were to put on an air show.
Fargo AirSho co-chairmen Dick Walstad, left, and Darrol Schroeder plan to retire after this their 12th AirSho this weekend in Fargo. The two started up the Fargo Air Museum and a few years later in 1989 were coaxed into starting an AirSho. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO -- One fall day in 1988, Dick Walstad picked up his morning paper and discovered that he and his colleague Darrol Schroeder were to put on an air show.

He immediately called Schroeder to find out if he had heard about their supposed plans. Schroeder responded, "When, where and how?"

Now, after more than two decades spent overseeing a dozen air shows, Walstad, 76, and Schroeder, 85, will step back from their positions as co-chairmen to follow through with a retirement they've been talking about for years. Neither has embraced the term "retirement" because both plan to oversee the show's committee for a few more years as advisers.

"Retiring is kind of a funny word," said Walstad's wife, Jane. "Neither one of

those guys are gonna be retired as long as their legs work and their brains work."

Colleagues turned friends

Jane Walstad calls her husband and Schroeder "the most compatible two people" she's ever seen.

"They just never argued," she said. "They probably disagreed on some things sometimes, but I've never seen two people have such a wonderful relationship."

The pair met at an air show in the mid-1980s, but their friendship is the result of the many committees and projects they have worked on over the years.

Walstad grew up in Minot and attended the University of North Dakota. He worked at IBM for a few years before joining the North Dakota National Guard in 1961. After eight years of service, he started working at Fargo-based Cook Signs Co., which he eventually bought and ran until retiring in 2002.

Schroeder, a native of Davenport, joined the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard during high school. He attended North Dakota State University where he met his wife, Jean. Schroeder joined the Air Force for a 16-year stint before returning to North Dakota to rejoin the Air National Guard. He retired as a major general in 1991.

The Fargo AirSho was born out of a short, informal conversation with Vince Lindstrom, former director of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While they were at an air show in Oshkosh, Wis., Walstad suggested to Lindstrom that he and Schroeder should start an air show in Fargo, but the conversation ended there.

"Well, he went out and told the newspaper," Walstad said. "We thought, 'What the heck, might as well.' "

After a financially rocky first few years, the two settled into a rhythm.

About 12 years after their first air show, they teamed up with former air performers Gerald Beck and Bob Odegaard to open the Fargo Air Museum using funds from the AirSho.

Walstad and Schroeder attempted to retire from the AirSho about six years ago, but were denied by their committee.

"We stood up and said, 'This is it gang,' and they kind of nodded," Walstad said. "The next week or two, they came in and said, 'You can't do this.' "

But this time it's different. The two are determined to step back and let the next generation take over.

Jane Walstad said though it's time for the two to slow down, neither is built for retirement.

"You know, when you get to be older, if you don't stay busy, you die," she said. "I know those two want to end on a high."

Leaving the AirSho in limbo

Those who know Walstad and Schroeder say they have been the perfect team to run Fargo's air show, which is held every two years.

Walstad brings connections with other air shows and performers, while Schroeder has a wealth of military knowledge and contacts to draw on.

"We've just always had a positive outlook on the whole thing," Schroeder said.

The two have custom-designed their show, so replacing them is expected to take a few years of adjustment.

"I've never met two individuals that were connected so well to everyone" said Air Museum CEO Scott Fletcher. "They run more than anybody I know."

Walstad and Schroeder don't plan to appoint successors to run the AirSho. This means one of the estimated 70 committee members who put the shows together will have to run it.

Mike Haugen was brought on for the 2011 AirSho to alleviate some of the stress the event puts on its organizers, especially because the process for putting them together has grown more complicated each year.

After the North Dakota Air National Guard stopped flying its F-16s, the equipment that was used for their support was allocated to other missions, Haugen said. The AirSho committee would borrow that equipment for its production.

"Now we have to bring in a bunch of the equipment from anywhere from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls (S.D.) to Duluth (Minn.) to Minot," Haugen said.

Fletcher said the passion Walstad and Schroeder have for aviation is evident. That passion is sometimes what kept the show alive, he said.

For example, Walstad discovered in preparing for one of the first shows that the committee was short several thousand dollars. He applied for a loan and put his house up as collateral.

Walstad said the committee has already applied to put the show on in 2017, but Jane Walstad stressed that it's up to the current committee members to decide whether one happens.

Regardless of the show's future, most agree that the two will maintain their friendship for the rest of their life.

"The friendship with Darrol is pretty unique," Walstad said, choking back tears. "He's been my hero for many years, so I feel pretty blessed to have a friend like that."

Details for the AirSho

The show runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Adults tickets are $30. Children 11 to 17 are $15. Children 10 and under free.

Several streets near Hector International Airport will be blocked Saturday and Sunday during the Fargo AirSho to ensure safety.

Streets closed from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.:

• 19th Avenue North between University Drive and 18th Street (closed with access to businesses allowed).

• Albrecht Boulevard between 17th Avenue North and 19th Avenue.

• 16th Street North between 21st and 23rd avenues.

Streets closed from 10:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.:

• 19th Avenue North between Dakota Drive and 18th Street.

• Dakota Drive from 19th Avenue North to 12th Avenue.

• 15th Avenue North between Dakota Drive and 18th Street.

• 32nd Avenue North west of University Drive.