Airplane donation boosts aviation maintenance job training

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One local family’s multi-generational love of flying will soon be shared by students from throughout the Mid-Columbia, thanks to a recent donation to Columbia Gorge Community College Foundation.

A Columbia Gorge resident for more than 55 years and long-time pilot, Cary Lowe passed away in November 2021.

He had raised a family and built his career in The Dalles. Among his many interests, flying his 1963 Piper Cherokee 235 was one of his favorites. Cary owned this four-seater airplane for 28 years, and in that time he and his wife MaryEllen and two daughters, Laura and Carly, enjoyed many family vacations to places only the little Piper could take them.

Cary shared his love for flying with his own father, Stan. When the Lowe family met with Wendy Patton, executive director of Columbia Gorge Community College Foundation, one chilly morning on the tarmac at Columbia Gorge Regional Airport in Dallesport, they avidly shared stories of how flying created a bond across the generations.

The occasion? The family had decided to donate Cary’s plane to the college as a teaching tool for the college’s aviation maintenance program, now in final stages of development.

Carly was a baby when the Lowes purchased the plane, so she literally grew up in it. MaryEllen told Patton they would go scouting in it, and even flew to Alaska one year. Laura remembers her father always looking for a place to land should they encounter any issues, the mark of a great pilot. The family always returned home safely and always found adventures together in the little Piper.

“There are many family memories wrapped up in this plane,” says Patton. “CGCC Foundation is honored to keep Cary Lowe’s memory alive by accepting this donation with the knowledge the next generation of aviation mechanics will hone their skills and become part of the very workforce who used to service Cary’s plane for so many years.”

The college is developing its aviation maintenance technician training program with the intention of basing this at Columbia Gorge Regional Airport, which is located near The Dalles Campus. The college’s student residential hall, completed in September 2021, will support students attending this and other instructional programs.

The college’s aviation maintenance associate degree and certificate were approved last summer by the college’s accrediting authority, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; next step is completion of program review by the Federal Aviation Administration, anticipated later this spring.

From left: Carly, MaryEllen and Laura Lowe with the family’s Piper Cherokee, now part of the aviation technician training program being developed at Columbia Gorge Community College.
Wendy Patton photo

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