Life with a view

Like father, like son: Willy and Ron Kenmir experienced the glory years of flying together

Longtime Northwest Airlines pilot Willy Kenmir taught his son, Ron, to fly, starting when he was 12 in a Beechcraft B-35 Bonanza (circa 1958).
Longtime Northwest Airlines pilot Willy Kenmir taught his son, Ron, to fly, starting when he was 12 in a Beechcraft B-35 Bonanza (circa 1958).

Michael Douglas followed in father Kirk Douglas’ footsteps and made a career of acting.

Chris Long, son of former Oakland Raider Howie Long, plays professional football for the New England Patriots.

And then, of course, there’s George H.W. Bush and W.

But father and son airline pilots?

Willy and Ron Kenmir were a father-son pilot team for Northwest Airlines for 12 years.

Here’s a bit about their story, as told by Ron Kenmir:

My dad, Willy Kenmir, was a captain for Northwest Airlines from 1943 to 1980. I flew for North Central Airlines from 1966 to 1968, and Northwest, 1968 to 2003. 

We both had 37-year careers in the cockpit, with dad pioneering the propeller aircraft and moving on into jets. I stepped in just as Northwest was switching its fleet to jets only. I ended my career as a Boeing 727 captain.

Dad taught me to fly when I was 12 years old, and my feet barely stretched to the rudder pedals. His enchantment with the profession reached out to me. I’d overhear him telling Mom late at night about “thunderstorms over Lone Rock” (a Wisconsin check point for pilots). 

I wanted to share this bird’s-eye view of the weather.

When I met Dad at the terminal, I was always thrilled, watching him horse that gigantic flying machine to a stop at the gate. I could see his friendly face in the instrument panel lights: It was definitely my own father! Hey, I wanted to do that, too!

I so enjoyed the fast and witty banter of the crews I met when Dad took me along on his trips. Was it awesome eventually flying with these same wonderful pilot characters my dad knew?

Understatement! 

They soon began calling me “Willy’s boy,” and I felt the strange connection with them that all pilots share — a bond characterized by a touch of black humor. Following a trip, one of us occasionally would jokingly comment, “Well, we cheated death again!”

Dad learned to fly before WWII while serving in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) at the University of North Dakota. The first NWA airliner he piloted was the Douglas DC-3; the last, the Boeing 747. 

I told him once, “You got in on the glory years of flying.” He said, “Yes, but the last half — flying jets — was the best.” 

So much for pioneering! Maybe that applies to life, too? I, also like the jets better, even with losing the romance of the big engines and spinning propellors. 

Dad died in 2000. 

He was the last of a generation. Although I never crewed for him, it was a privilege sharing a lot of his career with him. We both experienced life from the view of a highly trained professional. Each of us enjoyed the same unique perspective when watching the sunrise over the Alaskan mountains and while skirting gigantic thunderstorms over the prairies in summer — and blizzards in winter. 

We both did it. We shared. 

During my stewardess tenure — from 1960 to 1988 — I flew trips with both these gentleman.

I can tell you the apple never falls very far from the tree.


Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to chall@mngoodage.com.