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Airport salutes first president

LAUREL LIPPERT, Special to the Sun

As Truckee Tahoe Airport enters its fourth decade, we want to salute some of the people who worked to create it and guide it through its years of growth.

For our first look into this history, we chose Zeph Rose, one of the original founders of the Truckee Tahoe Airport District, and its first president.

“When we started the Truckee-Tahoe Airport District didn’t have anything – no money, office or stationery, and no property. We didn’t even know what the alignment of the runway should be,” recalled Zeph Rose, founding member of the district and its first president.

It was 1958 and Rose, 10 years out of Harvard Business School, was young and ambitious.

He believed strongly in public service and knew that an airport was essential to a prosperous and thriving community.

Born in 1922 in Branson, Missouri, one often children, Rose worked for Standard Oil Co. in the Bay Area before joining his four brothers in the ownership and operation of a number of supermarkets in Nevada and Northern California, including one in Truckee.

Rose and his wife Majel settled here to raise their family and in 1956, when the Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce suggested a new airport as a project, Rose offered to cover the startup expenses out of his own pocket just to get the ball rolling.

Within two years, Truckee Tahoe Airport District (TTAD) was approved by 80 percent of the voters.

Its five elected directors were Zeph Rose, Lee Apple, Fred Schultz, Rex Reid and Walter Speeter, with Cecil Edmunds as secretary. TTAD was the first district in California to be comprised of two counties and also the first to come into being without assets.

“In the beginning, everyone worked without compensation and paid their own expenses for travel, telephone and correspondence,” said Rose. The district soon began its search for a new location for the airport when it was agreed that “Airport Flats,” a dirt strip northwest of the present airport, was too limited.

When the present site was determined to be the best, Rose and the other new directors pursued the funding. “We were able to get the federal land deeded over to the airport district and to buy private land at $250 per acre from Joe Joerger,” he said. Nevada County built the access road from Highway 267, while the state and federal governments provided matching funds.

“The Civil Aeronautics Administration came up here in a DC-4 to determine the most ideal alignment for the runway,” Rose said. “We also measured the winds for about a year.”

In 1961, the Truckee-Tahoe Airport opened with one runway and a new terminal.

“We built with an eye on expansion,” said Rose, who by then had begun flying lessons in a 65HP Aeronca. From the beginning of his 12-year term as director of TTAD, Rose also knew the importance of protecting the airport.

“Both counties gave us maximum clear zones because we were aware of what happens when you build an airport in the middle of nowhere and everybody encroaches on it.”

Twelve years after he was first elected as TTAD director, Rose was an instrument and multi-engine-rated pilot flying a Twin Comanche.

In 1970, he resigned from the district where he’d served as president for four years.

Now retired in the Bay Area, his legacy is alive and well.

Zeph Rose always believed that Truckee Tahoe Airport would be a critical part of Truckee and North Lake Tahoe’s future.

“We were constantly working to make it better,” said Rose, now 77. “We visualized that it could really be something.”

This is the first in a series of historical salutes proposed by the Truckee-Tahoe Airport District Board of Directors.


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