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Ethel Vaughn: pioneering pilot

Ethel Vaughn pictured next to her plane in the 1960's, was the first female pilot in the New York Mills area.1 / 2
Ethel today recalls interesting aviation stories from her home in New York Mills.2 / 2

One particularly tempestuous Minnesota winter, Ethel Vaughn was called upon to come to the aid of some starving deer.

"The snow was different. It had rained on top of snow so there was a crust," Vaughn recalls. "The deer couldn't go very far or they would cut their legs."

After hearing local reports of a herd of deer stranded out in the treacherous snow, Vaughn hopped in her Piper Super Cruiser plane and went out to determine the herd's location. With her aerial vantage point, Vaughn soon came across the trapped deer that were starting to starve in the snow.

With the herd's location pinpointed, Vaughn was able to direct a group of snowmobilers to the deer. The snowmobilers carted in food to the hungry animals, and saved them from certain death.

Now, at 82 years old, Vaughn recalls her airplane adventures with an unmistakable glimmer in her eyes. She tells of escapades throughout the area, like the time she was enlisted to find some stray cattle for a local farmer.

Vaughn is widely recognized as the first female pilot of the New York Mills area. She and her late husband, Milo, are also known in the city of New York Mills as the second generation owners of Vaughn Chevrolet.

It was through the family business that the Vaughns acquired their first airplane. "My husband traded an automobile for an airplane," Ethel recalls.

Milo had experience flying from his time in the Service, sparking an interest in aviation. Vaughn says she told her husband, "If you're going to fly, I'm going to too."

The couple started taking lessons in Perham, and Milo and Ethel were eventually licensed as pilots. Their Piper Super Cruiser plane had one seat for the pilot, and two passenger seats. Throughout their lifetime as private pilots, they would bring family members with them on trips--sometimes as far away as Canada or Wisconsin.

Ethel (Greiff) Vaughn was born and raised in Perham, graduating from Perham High School in 1944. After graduation, she spent a brief period of her life in Washington, D.C. working as a clerk typist for the Navy.

"I liked Washington," Vaughn says of the experience. "We'd go site seeing all the time. I worked on my first electronic typewriter out there too."

Upon returning to the lakes area, Vaughn worked for seven years at Farmers & Merchants State Bank in New York Mills. She met Milo on a double date at the Eagles Café in Perham. They were married in 1949, and had three children, Sherry, Vicki, and Tim.

After working at the bank, Vaughn joined Milo and worked at Vaughn Chevrolet until her retirement. Their son Tim is now the third generation owner of the family business.

Over the years, the Vaughns took several family trips, both via automobile and airplane. "We would fly to Wisconsin to visit relatives," Vaughn mentions. She said they took many trips to Lake of the Woods to go fishing and camping. Although her husband wasn't that into the sport, Ethel Vaughn is a self-professed deer and duck hunter. She frequently enjoyed taking her son, Tim, on hunting trips.

The Vaughns' classic red and white plane was often seen flying out of both the Perham and New York Mills airports. Vaughn recalls that the Mills airport, which the city decided to close this year, was used for different take off and landing training exercises for pilots. Later on in life, the Vaughns also purchased a Cessna plane.

Being the first female pilot in the area, Vaughn never considered her hobby that unusual. She says she simply found flying "interesting" and never struggled with a fear of heights.

One of her most vivid aviation memories happened in the 1950's, when Harold Karvonen was flying from somewhere down south into the New York Mills airport, with a bunch of the city's Christmas decorations in tow. At the time, there were no lights at the airport, and the Vaughns received a call that Karvonen needed to land at night.

Vaughn explains, "We got a hold of several friends and got their cars out to the airport. We had them all shine their lights on the runway so he could land. It ended up fine."

For this fearless pioneer in local aviation, dilemmas like Karvonen's are just the fuel that ignited her lifelong fascination with flying.