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Looking Back: Berz Airport — It’s a family affair

Troy Times | Published January 21, 2020

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Milton “Pappy” Berz Sr. would have told you that it takes a combination of dreams, circumstances and hard work to build a successful airport.

Berz learned to fly in a Curtiss Jenny during World War I. In 1924 he and two friends organized a flying enterprise at the Michigan Fliers Field at Southfield and Nine Mile roads, but the business failed.

In 1945, Berz purchased 145 acres on Coolidge Road, between 14 Mile and Maple roads, in rural Troy Township. During an airplane dealers meeting, he registered his property under the name “Berz Airport.” Soon afterward, he began receiving mail under that name and decided to “move some planes there,” becoming licensed under the GI Bill. A cement block hanger was built there in 1946 to shelter 14 planes.

Berz Airport was a family business for many years, with Berz and his wife, Dorothy, fueling planes and doing paperwork. Milton Berz Jr. gave flight instructions, and his wife, Mary Jane, answered the phone and did other chores. Berz Sr.’s other son, Theodore Berz, became a flight instructor. Daughters Julia and Emily got their private pilot licenses and assisted wherever they were needed. The family offered flight instruction, a taxi service and aerial photography, and performed stunts.

Eventually, the airport had two paved runways, and numerous hangars and was the home base for 115 planes.

In later years, Berz Sr. turned over the airport’s operations to Berz Jr., who offered flying lessons in Ray, Michigan. Theodore became a professional pilot and flew commercial airplanes. A third son, George Berz, was killed on June 7, 1964, when his plane went down on Adams Road, near Long Lake Road, during a test flight with the Birmingham fire chief.

In the late 1960s the Berz Airport in Troy was sold to Rockwell International. It was sold again in 1979 to Oakland County and continues to operate under the name Oakland/Troy Airport.

Go to troyhistoricvillage.org  for more information about local history and upcoming programs at the Troy Historic Village, located at 60 W. Wattles Road, including “Midwinter Dollar Days” and new free creative writing, printing and art activities offered in the Print Shop.

— Loraine Campbell, Troy Historic Village executive director

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