RHINELANDER - Looking back on his 28 years as airport director, Joe Brauer says he has a lot to be proud of.
"When we got the disabled passenger lift, the non-motorized one, we were very, very proud of that," said Brauer, who's worked as the airport director for 28 years. He's also been in the airline business for 20 years.
Now, the longtime Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport director will be passing things off to a familiar face.
"You look at it and say, 'What a great story to bring the prodigal son back home,'" said Brauer.
"Going from airport kid to director in 25 years I think is a great chronology," said Matthew Leitner, the man who will take over for Brauer as airport director in May.
Leitner, who graduated from Rhinelander High School in 1997, grew up riding his bike to the airport.
"[I] worked at Rhinelander flying service. I would do whatever it took to get an airplane ride or an hour of flight instruction," said Leitner during a phone interview with Newswatch 12.
Leitner solo piloted on his 16th birthday even before getting his driver's license. Even being blind in his left eye couldn't stop his passion.
"It's just always been an integral part of who I am and a white hot passion. It's just something I live for," said Leitner.
Now, Leitner is getting ready to leave his position as airport director in California and fill the shoes of a man he knew growing up in the Northwoods. Brauer says he's confident Leitner will exceed his work as airport director.
"Just continue to see Rhinelander being that shining star that's out there with what we've accomplished and what Matt will accomplish in the future," said Brauer.
Leitner will take over for Brauer on May 7. Brauer will officially retire later in May, the day after his birthday, at the age of 67. Brauer wants to thank everyone in the community for their support over the years.