Doug Kimmel’s office on the second floor of the Veteran’s Airport of Southern Illinois has a massive amount of glass. Unlike from his old workspace in the former airport terminal, Kimmel can now see all of the airport’s runways, taxiways and tarmac. His vision, however, goes much farther than the airfield for which he is responsible.
“For some time, I’ve attended the breakfasts with the ‘One Region, One Vision,’ mantra,” Kimmel, 48, said. "I think that is an excellent approach and what we need to be doing.”
In fact, it was that line of thought that led to the airport’s new name.
“The new terminal was a 10-year endeavor and I realized that this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Kimmel, who is marking 20 years as the airport’s director, recalled. “I approached the airport board suggesting that we take this as an opportunity to do a rebranding initiative.”
He says while the airport traditionally has served the entire area — “Murphysboro to Harrisburg and Mount Vernon to Metropolis and all points in between,” in his words — the former name didn’t really express that.
“For me as a native Carbondale kid who now lives near Marion, it’s hard for us to still come across as being something for everyone when you are the ‘Williamson County Regional Airport,’" he said.
Paying homage to the airport’s long relationship with military operations, the board agreed with a suggestion by Kimmel’s assistant and on Veteran’s Day 2016, the new terminal and the new name were unveiled. He says the new name has been well-received.
“I think its taken hold rather quickly,” he proclaimed. “Coupled with the Honor Flights we’ve been able to do each spring and fall over the last couple of years, it has just come together perfectly.”
Yes, the Honor Flights — an opportunity for World War II and Korean Conflict veterans to participate in an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington DC to visit memorials, share memories, and, in some cases, gain some emotional healing.
“When we have those flights return and our nation’s heroes come off the aircraft into Veteran’s Airport of Southern Illinois and there are several thousand people packed in and around here, it’s a wonderful thing,” he said.
Kimmel, who serves on the board for the local Honor Flight program, has been instrumental in making the trips a reality, but he shies away from attention.
“What I’ve always personally enjoyed is being the guy at the back of the room and just seeing the public show of support. We always call it tears and cheers. It makes me realize how important this is, not only for the veterans, but for their family and friends and all of us in the region. It’s a truly rewarding experience,” he shared.
Kimmel takes a big picture role in all that he does, again with a regional approach. He represents the airport as a member of several area chambers of commerce, volunteers to serve on boards for tourism bureaus, economic development groups and has volunteered with Marion youth sports. He also has served on a number of national board and commissions, some of which have had a direct impact on airports and regions like his.
“I served as a chair of a central air service committee nationally that helped to fund small community air services like ours to keep providers like Cape Air here,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity at the local, regional, state and federal levels to represent this airport, to make sure that legislators and regulators know what affects us here in Southern Illinois.”
Kimmel says working in local communities has been important for him, too.
“All too often, airports are looked at as that thing out there,” he explained. “It’s important for me to make sure people know what benefit our airport has to the local or regional economy. You don’t get that across unless you’re involved with the community.”
He says a study done about 10 years ago show the airport to have an annual economic impact of $22 million, and he says, the airport will be key to future growth.
“Transportation is an economic generator, particularly with our location with Illinois 13, I-57 and the Amtrak service in Carbondale.” Of course, Kimmel also points to the passenger air service provided by Cape Air and he mentions the Southern Illinois University flight program based at the nearby Southern Illinois Airport.
The two airports are complimentary, Kimmel says. In fact, during the initial discussion about the future of SIU’s flight and automotive programs, the then Williamson County Regional Airport board supported the development for the Southern Illinois Airport.
“We’ve developed our niches and it’s been a win-win,” he said. “I think it’s a good example of one region, one vision being implemented. At the most basic level is the fact that both airports are vital components of our region’s transportation infrastructure.”
It’s an infrastructure that he can see just by looking out of his office windows.