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Dorothy "Dottie" Anderson

10th in our series of famous BHS alumni

Pioneer aviatrix taught hundreds of students to fly

Bluffton airport terminal named in her honor

 Dorothy “Dottie” Anderson took her first airplane ride when she was eight years old, a few years before Amelia Earhart launched an around-the-world flight attempt.

Dorothy “Dottie” Anderson

Jan. 7, 1926 – Dec. 8, 2012

1947 Bluffton High School graduate


 Dorothy “Dottie” Anderson took her first airplane ride when she was eight years old, a few years before Amelia Earhart launched an around-the-world flight attempt.


Anderson’s love of flying turned into a career, describing it this way: ‘From the time I saw my first airplane that was all I talked about. I can’t remember the time that I did not want to fly.”


As a member of the Bluffton High School graduating class of 1947 she did more than talk about flying. She learned to fly airplanes before she learned to drive automobiles. And, she built her own airplane, but that comes later in her story.

Logging over 40,000 hours in aerial flight during her lifetime, she taught hundreds of students and flew in air races throughout the country for over one-half century. Participating in 32 Air Race Classics, a 4th place was her best finish.

Her final air competition, the 2011 Air Race Classic, an annual cross-country jaunt, took place a year before her death.


While flying was always her number one interest, her high school years were full of many other activities. Descriptive words accompanying her senior yearbook photo, a play on her initials, “D.A.,” became “Dauntless, debater, discreet, accomplished, alert, attentive actor.”


A.J.B. Longsdorf, Bluffton school superintendent, wrote this description of Anderson in a letter of recommendation: “Miss Anderson is a young woman of fine bearing, wholesome character, correct habits, plenty of initiative and a will to work.”


These characteristics and descriptive words translate to the following Bluffton High School accomplishments for Dottie:

• Salutatorian of the class of 1947

• Junior and senior class National Honor Society memberships

• National Thespians membership with leads in junior and senior class plays

• Band, orchestra and mixed ensembles participation

• President of Girls’ Athletic Association

• Student Patrol member

• Girls’ Reserve Cabinet


Here’s her story:

Beginning her flying career as a pilot of small aircraft while still in her teens, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and worked part-time and summers for a flying service in Findlay and Bowling Green.


Following high school graduation she enrolled at Bluffton College, but soon transferred to Bowling Green State University, where she earned a B.S. degree in education, with the intention of becoming a science teacher. Instead, she devoted her career teaching students to fly airplanes.


In 1945, while a student at BGSU, she completed her flight training for her private license. The following summer she worked at the Findlay airport, and later at the Bluffton airport.


In a feature story in the BGSU alumni bulletin in 1967 she said that in 1948 she received her commercial pilot license, her B.S. Ed from Bowling Green and her flight instructor’s certificate, in that order.


By the time she graduated from BGSU she had accumulated enough hours to qualify for her commercial pilot certificate and eventually her flight instructor’s certificate, making her one of the few women to hold that designation at the time.


When Anderson began working at the Bluffton Airport in 1948 it had a short grass runway. As her career grew so did the Bluffton airport. Today planes land and take off on its 4,126-foot asphalt runway.

She began flying larger and faster airplanes as her career advanced, eventually leading her to charter flying. Instrument and multi-engine ratings were soon added to her list of skills as she began flying charter crafts.


From 1948 to 1960 she was a flight instructor for the Bluffton Flying Service. Then, from 1960 to 1995 she was the Bluffton Flying Service chief flight instructor, eventually becoming director of operations at the Bluffton airport from 1986 to 1996.


In 1978 she became an FAA designated pilot examiner, qualifying her to test applicants for private, commercial and instrument licenses. In 1996 she became a pilot flight instructor. 

Through her flying interests she became a member of the Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international organization of licensed women pilots. She also joined the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.


Through her racing interests Anderson became a longtime participant in the annual All Women's Transcontinental Air Race, also known as the "Powder Puff Derby." In addition, she competed in countless weekend races throughout Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.


Four years following the demise of the Powder Puff Derby, Anderson began competing in the Air Race Classic, a cross-country race for women. Each race used different routes.

As an example, one race with a zig-zag 2,433-mile-course started at Corpus Christi, Texas. From there the route headed thorough Abilene, Kansas, Ft. Smith, Arkansas, Salina, Kansas, Waterloo, Iowa, Marilon, Illinois, Huntington, West Virginia ending in Columbia, South Carolina.  

Selected for participation in the Astronaut Training Program in Colorado during its early years, she declined saying, “It was a really busy time at the airport and they were shorthanded,” and she couldn’t afford to pay for this “unfunded for females” invitation.

Built a plane "for the fun of it"

In 1969 she built her own plane, “Just for the fun of it,” as she explained it in a Bluffton News feature article. Other than the welding, she completed the entire construction on her own.


The aircraft, a Pitt Special biplane, was described in the story as resembling the little sister of a Piper Cub. It was however one-half the size but contained more maneuverability, capable of inverted flight and attaining speeds up to 145 to 150 miles per hour on a level course.


Its 180-horsepower engine was slightly less powerful than a Cub. Carrying an 18- gallon tank limited its flight time not allowing for extensive trips.


Following her death, as an appropriate and final tribute to Anderson, the Bluffton Airport Advisory Commission requested the Bluffton village council to name the Bluffton Airport terminal in her memory. That request was approved and as of 2017 the building officially is the Dottie J. Anderson Terminal.

In 2004, Dottie married a life-long friend, Lloyd Shelton of Bowling Green, who died on June 26, 2012.

Her two nieces, Connie Anderson, and Karen Garmatter, both also graduated from Bluffton High School.


Ivan "Ike" Geiger, class of 1927

R.L. Triplett, class of 1902

Bluffton High School senior portrait

Working with Vaughan Flying in Findlay and Bowling Green

Building her own aircraft

Preparing for one of many air races

Bluffton Airport's Dottie J. Anderson Terminal


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