Hall of Fame Inductee
Steve Shalbreck was born in Pine Lake, Wisconsin, in 1901, but his life in aviation began and remained in Rhinelander. In the mid-1920s, he purchased an OSACO biplane made in Tomahawk and flew it off a landing strip he maintained at the county fairgrounds on the edge of town. It was the first Rhinelander airport and Shalbreck was there from day one.
He soon acquired a Thomas Morse Scout, a JN-4, and other aircraft to pursue the work of a small town aviator—flying passengers and freight; training new pilots; buying, selling, maintaining and repairing airplanes; advocating for aviation before city and county governments; and flying as often as he could in the good years and the bad.
In 1941, the city of Rhinelander expanded the airport and retained Shalbreck as manager. In 1947, the city and Oneida county came together to create a joint airport commission that led to the opening of a new, modern airport that brought regular air mail and commercial air line service. Shalbreck had a hand in all this work and more until he retired as manager in 1959.
In the late 1940s Shalbreck inaugurated an air ambulance service with a 1934 Waco KUE8 that carried sick and injured patients from throughout northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula to hospitals in large cities. During the polio epidemic of the 1950s, he was flying a Cessna T-50 and never refused to fly a polio victim in need of care.
After he retired as airport manager, Shalbreck continued to fly and to rebuild and restore aircraft. It was a common sight in Rhinelander to see Steve at the wheel of his “Jumbo Wrecker” towing home a disassembled airplane destined for rebuilding.
Many other aviators lived and worked there, but from the 1920s until his death in 1986, Steve Shalbreck was “Mr. Aviation” in Rhinelander.