By Jeff Murphy, September 11, 2023
The ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the University of Central Missouri's new Skyhaven Aviation Center included, from left, David Pearce, UCM executive director for governmental relations; Scott Fitzpatrick, Missouri state auditor; Warrensburg residents Lynn and Jackie Harmon; Roger Best, university president; Senator Denny Hoskins, Missouri District 21; Tyler Young, senior professional pilot student from Troy, Missouri; Courtney Goddard, vice president for advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation; Mark Suazo, dean of the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies; and Ed Hassinger, Missouri Department of Transportation deputy director and chief engineer.
WARRENSBURG, MO – With much fanfare, including music provided by student marching band members, and a ribbon cutting with hundreds of guests, the University of Central Missouri on Sept. 8 celebrated the opening of its new Skyhaven Aviation Center at the Max. B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport.
Serving as a catalyst for local and regional economic development while also contributing to the advancement and future of aviation education at UCM, the Aviation Center is a 10,000-square foot facility that will become the airport’s centerpiece. The $5.1 million building project was made possible by a combination of funding sources that include private gifts totaling $2.8 million from Warrensburg residents Lynn and Jackie Harmon, the Sunderland Foundation in Kansas City and other private donors, and $1 million in state appropriations. UCM funded the balance.
UCM is the only university in the state of Missouri to operate its own public-use airport, and the only institution in the nation to offer a master’s degree in Aviation Management. Consistent with its dual role, the new Skyhaven Aviation Center was designed to serve the needs of private pilots while also preparing UCM students to become part of a high-demand industry as professional pilots. The new facility includes amenities such as a pilots’ lounge, lockers, bathroom with a shower, and quiet room to serve local and corporate aviators. It also has a large shared space with a dispatch station, break room, airport staff offices, vending machines, conference room, work room, and 30 private flight instructor-aviation student pods for individual meetings and educational purposes.
Individuals who attended the dedication ceremony had the opportunity to tour the new facility. Within the gathering were UCM students, faculty, and staff and many aviation alumni. Also taking part were city, county, state and federal officials and various representatives of their offices.
David Pearce, the university’s executive director for governmental relations, welcomed those in attendance calling the event a “momentous day as the university takes a giant leap forward in academics and in service to the community and region.”
Pearce noted that Skyhaven Airport was donated to what was then known as Central Missouri State College in 1968 by local businessman and university supporter Max B. Swisher. This generous act helped create the aviation program, which is now part of the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies.
"This magnificent building will allow UCM to build on its past successes and attract new generations of students to learn and fly here,” Pearce said.
UCM President Roger Best also thanked the Swisher family for the legacy that was created through Max Swisher’s gift.
“For more than 50 years, hundreds of faculty members and flight instructors, including the late John Horine,” who was the longest-serving aviation faculty member, “have educated thousands of aviation professionals who have had a significant and transformative impact on the aviation industry,” he said.
“We firmly believe in engaging our students with their professions from the very start to ensure they are exceptionally well prepared for what comes next. So, today’s ceremony – the formal opening of the Skyhaven Aviation Center – stands as reaffirmation of the University of Central Missouri’s commitment to serving our students and our communities.”
Mark Suazo, dean of the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies, noted, “We want to acknowledge how proud we are as a college to house the Department of Aviation and to be stewards of the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport.”
"One of the things we are committed to, obviously, is student success,” Suazo said. “So this marks a huge milestone in our progression as a department and as a college.”
Reflecting on the history of this project, Courtney Goddard, vice president for advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation, said that the original project was planned on a smaller scale, and was expected to cost about $2.1 million, but “a group of people dared to dream much bigger. This terminal
benefited from the incredible partnership between the state of Missouri, private donor support and the university,” she told the audience. “And because of this shared vision from all of those folks and from donors, in addition to those who are here today, the aviation center became what it is today, which is a $5.1 million investment in the future of the University of Central Missouri.”
Goddard thanked major donors, including the Harmons and Kent Sunderland, representing the Sunderland Foundation, for their gifts. Another donor family who was in the audience and recognized during the event by Dean Suazo was Paul and Mary Belle Rowland, a Warrensburg couple who donated funds to assist in purchasing furniture for the facility.
Ed Hassinger, Missouri Department of Transportation deputy director and chief engineer, spoke about how the state administers federal funds in the form of block grants to support general aviation airports, mostly runways, taxiways, and roads within these facilities. He credited Senator Denny Hoskins, District 21, as being instrumental in helping to secure $1 million in state appropriations to help fund this project.
“I’m glad to report…we’re not done yet,” said Hoskins, who joined the platform of speakers. “This past January, I asked President (Roger) Best and David Pearce how I could help with any additional needs for the airport, and they said most airports this size have self-service fuel pumps.”
Hoskins took that idea to heart, and was able to secure $850,000 in legislative funding to help make the self-service fuel pump project possible. In the near future, UCM’s aviation program and private pilots will benefit from self-service fuel facilities that operate 24 hours a day.
A private pilot, Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick flew his own twin-engine airplane to the event and spoke briefly. He congratulated UCM’s aviation program for realizing its dream for building the Skyhaven Aviation Center, and noted the value of airport development to support general and commercial aviation.
“It’s all incredibly important that we support that in Missouri,” Fitzpatrick said, calling aviation a huge industry with great potential for growth in the state.
Tyler Young, a UCM student from Troy, Missouri, who will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation – Professional Pilot, offered his perspective on the new facility. He said he actually began using the Aviation Flight Center three days before the dedication. “I am certain that I speak for all of us when I tell you how incredible this building is and will continue to be,” he said.
“The Professional Pilot program is an iconic part of UCM. The significance of this new building cannot be ignored,” Young added while also thanking donors and the state of Missouri for helping to make a dream that was conceived 10 years ago to become a reality.