Fly-In’s top volunteer keeps show aloft

ARLINGTON — By the time the Fly-In officially opens today at the municipal airport, the event’s No. 1 volunteer will have already logged 15-hour days during entire weeks over the course of months.

The Arlington Fly-In sport aviation convention and air show, one of Snohomish County’s biggest summer tourist attractions, is attended by about 50,000 people and brings an estimated $20 million into the county’s economy.

Top volunteer Bruce Angell first became acquainted with Arlington’s airport about 14 years ago when he couldn’t find hangar space for his small plane at Paine Field in Everett.

“I found out that Arlington has one of the best general aviation airports around,” Angell said. “And then I moved here because Arlington is a magnetic kind of town.”

Now 68, Angell is well known for his volunteer work. Along with his duties as the volunteer facilities manager of the Fly-In, he is chairman of the Arlington Planning Commission and can be counted on for smaller things such as ensuring this spring that the Helping Hands thrift store was ready to open after its move to a new location.

Angell also is the “first gentleman” of Arlington, which has meant taking on more duties at home since his wife Mayor Barbara Tolbert took office in January.

Tolbert, whose day job is executive director of the Fly-In, never issues “honey-do” lists to Angell.

“Bruce is the first one to jump on anything that needs doing,” Tolbert said. “And for him, no job is done to the level of ‘close enough.’ That’s just not good enough for him.”

Angell has overseen the design and construction of iconic elements of the Fly-In such as the 30-foot replica of the World War II-era aircraft control tower and the 20-by-40-foot, two-story movable barn for the barnstormer stunt plane exhibit. And he corrals teen volunteers who perform numerous jobs, including plotting the lines of the spaces in the Fly-In campground.

“We are very close to our youth group,” Angell said. “We give them a job and the tools to do it and then we stand back. Kids will be kids, but the only time we interfere is when there is a safety issue. Otherwise we treat our youth volunteers like smart and capable adults and that gives them the power to claim their jobs as their own.”

Angell modestly says that he is just one of the 500 volunteers who make the Fly-In happen each year. Along with the young people, his other favorite group of volunteers is the one he calls the gang, his family away from home: Ron Jacobson, Herb Brown, Mike Bird, Ralph Fraizer and Dave Sessums.

The members of the gang are all retired and the Fly-In is their “job,” Tolbert said. “They arrive in the morning, put on the coffee pot and decide where to start.”

In the evening, Angell does his planning for the next day: hours of planning.

That’s how he approaches his service as chairman of the city’s Planning Commission, too, said city official Bill Blake.

Angell applied to join the volunteer commission because he wanted to be a voice for the airport on the board. Now he enjoys all aspects of land-use planning and project management, he said.

“Bruce does his homework and actually helps us as a staff at City Hall,” Blake said. “He also is very fair and wants to make sure that the Planning Commission always hears from all sides.”

Angell grew up in the Des Moines area south of Seattle. In college, he earned degrees in political science and public administration. His varied background includes electrical lineman, ambulance driver, a college staff employee and a health-club developer.

The best job he ever had, however, is the one he has now, Angell said.

“In retirement, I have the freedom to be creative and set a path for the future,” he said. “That path might meander, but 30 years from now our planning should result in a very livable community.”

Mayor Tolbert and Planning Commission Chairman Angell don’t agree on everything.

“Being married to the mayor doesn’t give me any more influence than I had before,” Angell said. “We sometimes argue to change each other’s minds. But we know that at home we have a safe place to try out our ideas. And we take time to laugh a lot, too.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;

Arlington Fly-In

The event runs Wednesday through Sunday at 188th Street NE entrance of Arlington Municipal Airport.

Kids Day is Thursday. Vintage Day is Friday, with a parade in the afternoon. Car Show Day and the Arlington Street Fair are Saturday.

Air shows are 2 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with special military presentations in the history area. Plane rides, B-17 tours, jet simulator rides, exhibits, workshops, activities for kids and food booths are planned.

Gates open at 8 a.m. Kids are admitted free.

Discounted tickets and more information are available at

Take your camera

We’d love to see your photos from the Fly-In. If you have photos to share, post them at

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