Aviation Pioneer Remembered Fondly By Local Residents

Aviation Pioneer Remembered Fondly By Local Residents

Obits A serrell

Andrew Serrell

OCEAN CITY — The local community lost a hero and pioneer in aviation last week when long-time flight instructor and Ocean City Municipal Airport advocate Andy Serrell passed away at the age of 94.

Serrell was a fixture around the airport for decades, teaching flying lessons, operating his aerial photography business and regaling anyone within earshot of his remarkable and courageous days flying various aircraft and conducting all-important missions in the Pacific for the U.S. Navy at the outset of World War II.

He was a staunch supporter of the airport at a time when the facility was at a crossroads. There was a time when the town’s airport in West Ocean City was little more than a rural airstrip, but Serrell was instrumental in fostering its expansion and growth. He was past president of the Ocean City Aviation Association and became a lecturer for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Foundation.

Privately, Serrell for decades ran his Ocean City Aircraft, Inc. company, teaching flying lessons, and perhaps more importantly, life lessons, to countless local fledgling pilots. He also operated an aerial photography business, a passion he developed in the 1960s in the heady days of the Cold War when, as a Navy captain, he led aerial reconnaissance missions for President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world was on the brink of war.

Through it all, Serrell’s passion was always flying, from his early days as a young Navy pilot in World War II through his decades-long career in the Navy and finally his all-important work on behalf of the airport. State Senator Jim Mathias this week recalled Serrell’s passionate advocacy.

“Andy was a dear friend,” he said. “He was a stalwart for that airport. I can still picture him being in the council chambers, urging us to continue to push for expansion of the airport. He was a true believer we should have a world-class airport for a world-class resort and a lot of the expansion and improvements over the years were because of his advocacy. He was a great advocate for the airport and for the city and you need advocates like that in the community to stand up for what they believe in.”

Ocean City Municipal Airport Manager Jamie Giandomenico said this week Serrell’s passion to teaching the gift of flight was what he will most likely be remembered for, at least in the latter part of his private sector life.

“Once somebody passes away, you start to think about what kind of legacy they left behind,” he said. “There are a lot of men and women in aviation careers that were mentored by Andy over the years. In the aviation community, there were a lot of people who flew with him and he started a lot of careers off right.”

Giandomenico agreed Serrell’s advocacy on behalf of the municipal airport played a large role in what the facility has become today.

“He was active in the airport and the organizations for so many years,” he said. “He had slowed down a little in recent years, but he was so active and gave so much of his time to the airport. He lives on in people with aviation careers all over the country and the world really.”

Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins, whose department oversees the municipal airport, recalled an almost paternal relationship with the experienced and passionate Serrell.

“I had the opportunity to work with Andy, relative to aviation issues, starting back in the late 1980s,” he said. “Not only did Andy have a wealth of knowledge relative to general aviation, he was a true gentleman and a professional, somewhat fatherly figure when sharing his vast history in aviation.”

Perhaps the greatest compliments for Serrell and his incredible history this week came from one of his former students, local business owner Todd Ferrante, who recalled the countless hours he spent with Serrell during flight and life lessons.

“He lived an amazing life,” he said. “He was probably one of the humblest guys you’ll ever meet. His career took him all over the world and every time I flew with him there was a new story. He made learning to fly a lot of fun. It’s hard to imagine learning to fly from a World War II vet.”

Ferrante said every time he thought he had heard the best of Serrell’s aviation stories, an even more remarkable one came along.

“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was taking aerial reconnaissance photos,” he said. “He just did so many amazing things. He was really proud of his country and a great defender of his country.”

Ferrante related a story from Serrell’s youth when he learned at a young age that he wanted to be a pilot.

“He didn’t have the money for flying lessons, so he hung around the airport and asked some of the guys to teach him,” he said. “They told him if he washed their cars, they would teach him to fly. Needless to say, Andy washed a lot of cars and ran a lot of errands. He was only 17 when he got his pilot’s license.”

Ferrante added, “Andy recognized what a treasure the Ocean City Airport was. He knew people in the FAA and he was able to get things done. He used his connections with the FAA to really advance that municipal airport.”

A funeral service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Berlin. Rev. Michael Moyer will officiate. Friends may call before the service. Inurnment will be in Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. A donation may be made in his memory, to PBY Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 941, Oak Harbor, Wash. 98239.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.