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In The Pipeline: A sign of the past turns up, along with its delightful owner

May 07, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • Art Nerio at lunch near the former site of the Meadowlark Airport, which he owned with his family.
Art Nerio at lunch near the former site of the Meadowlark… (Courtesy Chris…)

How strange to be sitting at lunch at the site of the old Meadowlark Airport with the man whose name will be forever intertwined with it.

For years I've read about Yukio "Dick" Nerio, who purchased the airport in 1947. But it was his son Art Nerio whom most old pilots identified with the venerable landing strip.

Though Art's parents lived on the property for a time, he ran the airport through its most popular era, from the 1960s through the late 1980s, when it closed. I've spoken to so many pilots who recount seeing Nerio pedal around on his bicycle, collecting the $3 landing fees from planes as they taxied to a stop, that I almost felt like I knew him already.

Now 88 years old, Nerio still lives nearby, and I was very excited recently to be put in touch with him by his friend Linda Liem, who was a co-owner of the flight school that existed at the airport. As it happened, Nerio had read my recent column on Meadowlark Airport, in which I talked about trying to track down the iconic blue sign that sat on Warner. As I wrote then, I had a few leads on the whereabouts of the sign, but Nerio wanted to set the record straight.

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Over lunch, Nerio, Liem and her husband, Ron, and I talked about the airport. But we also learned about the Nerio family history. I did not realize that his family had been sent to an internment camp in Arkansas at the start of World War II. Art was a teenager then, and when his family was released, they returned to the area and thankfully all of the property they owned in Orange County was still in their name.

They lived where the Westminster Mall is today, and Nerio told me that before they sold the property, one could see all the way to the ocean from their backyard. (Art's dad was keen on buying up lots of property back then, which obviously served the family well.)

I learned about Brandy, the airport horse that belonged to Nerio's daughter, and the fact that he had a student pilot's license, which would not allow him to solo but still allowed him the flexibility of taking to the air with other licensed pilots.

His family still owns a good deal of property in the area, and to see the twinkle in his eye, he's always looking for more. Shrewd, tough and sturdy, Art Nerio was a fascinating person to have lunch with.

But it got better.

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