Pilot keeps Medina hospital outfitted with windsock to aid helicopters in flight

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 10 November 2021 at 8:33 am

Ron Felstead gives back to Medina Memorial, his birthplace

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Ron Felstead of Medina, a lifelong pilot, points to the windsock on the roof of Medina Memorial Hospital, which he began replacing after Medina installed a helipad. He makes sure there is a new one every couple of years.

MEDINA – Ron Felstead has had a lifelong love of flying and been a dedicated supporter of Medina Memorial Hospital for almost as long.

It’s not surprising the hospital should occupy a special place in his heart – he was born there.

A few years ago, his background in aviation led him to make a very fitting donation to Medina Memorial Hospital.

The hospital had installed a helipad just south of the facility, when it occurred to Felstead the windsock was neglected and in need of being replaced. He knew how beneficial a windsock would be to the helicopter pilots. He talked to hospital personnel and arranged for a new one to be placed on the roof. Since that time he has continued to replace it every two years.

He explained how a pilot can gauge the direction of the wind by looking at a windsock, and can also estimate the velocity of the wind by how far out the windsock is extended. Knowing conditions of the wind is vital to a helicopter or airplane pilot.

Ron would get better acquainted with the hospital when he had his heart attack a few years ago. He was there 10 days before being transferred to Buffalo General Hospital to undergo a bypass.

Ron Felstead, an avid pilot and dedicated supporter of Medina Memorial Hospital, stands in the entrance to the hospital, where he was born.

He actually began his involvement with the hospital when John Sylvester encouraged him to be on the board in 2005. He would continue in that position until 2017.

He said the most heartbreaking thing while on the board was when they had to close the birthing center.

Ron is a son of the late Herb and Irene Felstead. They were living in Knowlesville when he was born and moved onto Taylor Hill (Townline Road) when he was 5, so his father, an avid pilot, could develop an airstrip.

“One of dad’s dreams when he was young was to fly,” Ron said. “He trained at Medina Airport with Herb Halsey. A Piper Cub was his first airplane.”

Ron got the flying bug very early. He soloed at Genesee County Airport in August 1957, the year he graduated from high school. A year later he got his private pilot’s license. He attended the University of Buffalo for two years through the ROTC program, where a teaching major realized how serious Ron was about flying. He wanted to get into a military flight school, but discovered he had to have four years of college.

Those in the program without a four-year degree were offered jobs in other areas of aviation, such as mechanics or air traffic control. Ron elected to come home and worked in various jobs while continuing his training, obtaining his commercial and flight instructor’s licenses. His first student was the late Zeke Royal of Medina. On a cross country with Royal to Ithaca, Ron learned a company there had a contract with the Army, Navy and Air Force to teach flying at Cornell, and he applied. His first job was teaching ROTC students how to fly to become a pilot in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

He also taught his brother to fly. His brother went out west where he attended Washington State to become a veterinarian. He met a girl in Montana and married her. Then he decided to go to navigator’s school, but a problem with his eardrums prevented him from pursuing that. So he then went back to pilot’s school and became an F-16 pilot. He ended up as squadron commander at the National Guard in Great Falls, Mont. Sadly, his brother died of a heart attack at age 58.

After leaving Cornell, Ron took a job at Page Airways in Rochester for a year, then in 1965 started teaching flying at Genesee County Airport. He had been there four years when, in 1969, the Rochester City School District was looking for a flight instructor, and he applied. He would be there almost 30 years, until his retirement.

When his dad died in 1986, Ron was executor of the estate. Ron had had a heart attack at the age of 52, and was prevented from flying for a year, until he could get his medical back. (A pilot’s medical exam is his license to fly.)

Ron tried to sell the airport. He sold off the house and farmland, but ended up keeping the airport for 30 more years, until selling it several years ago to John Follman of Waterport, a retired airline and jet pilot.

Ron and his wife Lynda have a son, who Ron also taught to fly, and a daughter.

Ron had caught the attention of the FAA and was appointed an examiner by them at the age of 25. He continued in that role for 27 years. His prestigious flying record earned him the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which was presented Aug 11, 2011 at Genesee County Airport. Ron’s record includes more than 50 years of flying with no incidents or violations.

“I take flying very seriously, a quality I learned from my father,” Ron said.

He still owns a Cessna 172, which he keeps at Genesee County Airport and flies frequently for his own pleasure.

Ron still is a big proponent of his local Medina Memorial Hospital.

“They have the latest in equipment, such as nuclear scanners, all state-of-the-art equipment, right here in Medina,” Ron said. “Being on the board made me realize how important it is to keep our hospital in the community. My life was probably saved here.”

Heather Smith, director of Orleans Community Health Foundation, thinks it’s pretty cool how Ron’s love of flying correlated with his dedication to Medina Memorial Hospital.

“Ron is a joyful donor who is such a pleasure to spend time with and get to know,” Smith said. “His passion for flying goes beyond the runway and he shares that by providing a helipad windsock to the hospital. It may not seem like much, but his donation goes beyond our building. Our windsock also provides a service to the homes in the community, as well as the pilots of Mercy Flight, by helping them gauge the wind and provide a visual for our location. It always amazes me how each and every donor has a different connection to the hospital and how unique their gifts can be. This is just one example of how community members can use their unique gifts to support us.”