The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority's longest-serving member was treated to an unprecedented "retirement" sendoff Tuesday, Jan. 5, that included a prolonged standing ovation by colleagues and an audience that had filled the Old County Courthouse conference room for the governing board's monthly meeting.
Len Harlig, regarded as one of Blaine County's most active go-to civic figures for several decades, was overwhelmed by the outpouring of tributes and accolades by airport authority members and by the airport staff for his 17 years of service, including one year on the predecessor Blaine County Airport Commission. Among other entries on his long community resume of appointments and volunteer service, Harlig also was a county commissioner.
However, Harlig's "retirement" was more symbolic than actual. He now is organizing the newly created five-member Blaine County Aviation Advisory Committee, whose appointees of diverse professional backgrounds will work alongside the airport authority as a new airport is planned and designed.
Resigning from the airport authority apparently wasn't in Harlig's plans. But his term was to end in June and, coincidentally, Blaine County Commission Chair Larry Schoen expressed a desire to serve on the airport board.
In his tributes to Harlig, Schoen said, "It's hard to imagine any more committed public servant."
Airport Manager Rick Baird also hailed Harlig's support of Friedman's operations staff.
For his part, Harlig, who has been generally unflabble during some contentious moments with area business interests in planning a new airport, told the audience, "We have a great opportunity ahead of us making a dream (of a new airport) possible."
As the airport authority's elder statesman, Harlig was notable for three characteristics during meetings. He invariably spoke with deliberate grammatical precision befitting a college English professor, he sprinkled wry, spontaneous ripostes in his offhand remarks and he was dogged in ferreting out spelling, grammatical or factual errors in board minutes and questioning financial data.
As a memento of his years on the board, he was presented with a large, framed, aerial color photograph of Friedman Memorial and a brass plate signifying his service.