2017-04-08 / Top News

Bradley Recalls MSHP Career of Four Decades

By Erich T. Doerr


Longtime Mackinac Island Airport Assistant Manager Dennis A. Bradley will be soon retire from the Mackinac State Historic Parks after more than 40 years of service. Mr. Bradley is pictured on Market Street Friday, March 24, with Fort Mackinac visible behind him. His first job with the parks was as a custodian at the fort in 1969, right after he graduated high school. Longtime Mackinac Island Airport Assistant Manager Dennis A. Bradley will be soon retire from the Mackinac State Historic Parks after more than 40 years of service. Mr. Bradley is pictured on Market Street Friday, March 24, with Fort Mackinac visible behind him. His first job with the parks was as a custodian at the fort in 1969, right after he graduated high school. Mackinac Island Airport Assistant Manager Dennis A. Bradley will be retiring from his position in April. The decision to step away will mark the end of a long career with Mackinac State Historic Parks that has taken up most of his adult life and seen him work on everything from blacksmithing to restoration projects. Saturday, April 22, will likely be his last day.

“I like doing the job, but I’m getting older,” said Mr. Bradley, 65.

He was graduated from LaSalle High School in St. Ignace on a Friday night in 1969, and started working at the state park the following Monday.

His first job was as a Fort Mackinac custodian, and over the next 30 years he worked just about everywhere in the agency. He was a blacksmith at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop on Market Street, drove snowplows in the winter, and cleaned streets in the summer, contributed to restoration projects, and worked on safety and master plan development. He has spent the last 20 years working year-around at the airport after initially working there only in the winter. He became the assistant manager when his father-in-law, George Bodwin, retired.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Mr. Bradley said. “I love this job and the people.”

Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter is grateful for Mr. Bradley’s long and faithful service to the park across many roles through the years. He was previously Mr. Bradley’s supervisor when he worked in the blacksmith shop. The two later worked closely during Mr. Bradley’s tenure at the airport.

“I’ve come to rely on his understanding of airport management in the complex operation of that facility,” Mr. Porter said. “He’s very dedicated, very knowledgeable, and very focused on putting people first in how he manages the facility.”

Mr. Bradley is currently the agency’s longest tenured employee.

“I will miss him very much when he moves on,” Mr. Porter said, adding he has always been impressed by Mr. Bradley’s civic-minded work, like his service as chief of the Mackinac Island Fire Department and teaching snowmobile safety classes. “Dennis has always been one to give back to the community, and that has impressed me.”

Mr. Bradley’s duties at the airport vary with the season. During the summer, he focuses on maintaining the facilities and landscaping, helps to park airplanes, and assists passengers by calling for taxis and handling luggage. Painting buildings and larger repairs are done during slower times in the spring and fall. Winter sees the airport crew keeping the runway clear. They use two plows and a tractor that can be equipped with a snow blower, bucket, broom, or plow, depending on need. Mr. Bradley’s co-workers have all been parttime employees, cycling in and out at the airport as needed. He said he has worked with many great ones over the years.

Summer is the busiest season for airport traffic, as corporate planes come in for conventions and other events and personal planes for commuting and sightseeing. The airport has been slow during the winter of 2016-17, owing to mild weather that kept the ferry running, but in the years where Lake Huron icees over, the airport can see 20 to 30 flights a day as all the Island’s freight and passengers then move by plane. In those years, drays await the planes to haul their cargos back to town.

On days when no planes are coming, Mr. Bradley finds time to keep every detail of the airport at its best, waxing floors, cleaning carpets, updating bulletin boards, and painting wheel chocks.

The airport operated and maintained by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. It is situated on 120 acres near the middle of the Island and has one runway and a parallel taxiway.

The airport’s location high atop the Island can create in pilots a sensation almost like they are landing on an aircraft carrier. Erratic winds can create unique weather conditions. Airport supplies are delivered by plane or horse-drawn dray, an unusual situation anywhere else, but normal for Mackinac Island.

Without a control tower, pilots communicate their locations and intents with each other and the airport on a common frequency so everyone knows when they can land or takeoff safely. They receive automated updates about the weather.

Mr. Bradley said the most common request he gets from pilots is to call them a taxi before they land so one will be available to take them to their destination on the Island. Once pilots land, they can park on the paved tarmac or on the grass and head off to enjoy the Island.

“It’s neat when you meet someone who has never been here before,” Mr. Bradley said. “They hop off their plane on their cell phone, walk through the lobby, and find their taxi is literally a horse and buggy. It’s like they went back in time 100 years.”

People are the aspect Mr. Bradley enjoys most about the airport job. The airport has many regular guests and passengers, some of them coming through regularly the entire time he has worked there. One family visits from Oregon every summer and stays at Grand Hotel for a week, and one of the boys visits the airport every day during the trip because of his interest in it.

Mr. Bradley has also had several encounters with celebrities, including film star Jane Seymour and children’s television favorite Bob Keeshan, best known for his role as “Captain Kangaroo.” His position has also introduced him to a lot of politicians, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his immediate predecessors, Jennifer Granholm, John Engler, James Blanchard, and William G. Milliken. Businessman Dick DeVos, a gubernatorial candidate in 2006, is a regular at the airport as he flies in to enjoy boat races and political events. Mr. Bradley even met former United States President George H.W. Bush at the airport, getting a chance to talk to Mr. Bush when his plane was momentarily delayed. His brief discussion with the president focused on golf. One couple waited at the airport all day for a chance to see the president, and snapped a photograph of Mr. Bradley with Mr. Bush.

The park system is now seeking Mr. Bradley’s successor. Two people have been interviewed, and Mr. Bradley plans to help train his replacement.

Dennis Bradley serves on the Mackinac Island City Council and represents the city on the area ambulance board, and he said his public positions keep him busy. While he is no longer a member of the Mackinac Island Fire Department, he continues to serve as the city fire marshal, carrying out many local inspections.

Mr. Bradley has been married to his wife, Jacklin, since 1968, and they have three grown children, Dennis, Doris, and David.

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