Chuck Jarecki got his pilot’s license in 1960 and married his life mate and co-pilot of 46 years, Penny Jarecki in 1970.
“I bought my first plane when Carter put the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit in,” Chuck Jarecki said.
Flying is a matter of transportation for the Jareckis as much as it is for adventure.
During his lifetime, Chuck Jarecki was involved in the leadership of a variety of high-level community service projects, which meant he needed to traverse large spans of country quickly.
Leadership boards included those in the aviation, science, food, beef, agriculture and conservation industries. And during those tenures Jarecki logged more than 5,000 hours while flying his C-185 floater plane or his C-180 single-engine Cessna airplane, nicknamed by the aviation industry as the Skywagon.
But along with the ability to make long trips quickly, the Jareckis used their planes to travel much of North America.
The pair enjoyed a birds-eye view of historical monuments in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. They’ve flown to Belize to snorkel; to the Canadian back country to adventure.
Penny Jarecki said she is happy to spend her lifetime with her husband.
“Chuck and I have flown extensively through Canada, the Yukon and northwest territories,” Penny Jarecki said. “We’ve been from the Arctic Circle to Panama.”
The Jareckis just returned from Matzatlán, Mexico.
“We’ve had many adventures,” Penny Jarecki said. “We camp under the wing of the plane and sometimes there’s literally nobody on the planet that knows where we are.”
Penny Jarecki is never afraid.
“Chuck is a cautious, meticulous person and I am thankful that we have a well maintained plane,” she said. “It is because of his thoroughness that I’ve never been afraid. We’ve never had a serious problem and that is because there is a lot of good planning.”
In addition to his love of air flight, Penny Jarecki said that her husband’s other passion is land management.
One of the Jareckis’ early life experiences was buying a 7,000-acre ranch west of Polson which they farmed and learned to conserve.
The pair were committed to the proper stewardship of the land and when they sold the property in the early 1990s, the Jareckis used the ranch sales’ proceeds to start a small family foundation at Montana State University, home to many of the Jareckis’ personal and professional friends. The foundation now provides scholarships to dedicated management and conservation students.
After the sale of his property Chuck Jarecki continued to work with local, state and national groups to further the development of responsible ranch and land management.
And along with that work, the Jareckis made a lot of friends.
In 1962 when Ron Normandeau lived in Polson and was taking flying lessons, he noticed a tall, dark-haired person who used to hang out there.
“That was Chuck,” Normandeau said. “He’s been that way all his life. Even though I didn’t know him at that time, that was Chuck.”
Normandeau said he moved away from Polson during his career working for the U.S. Government and did not permanently return until 2003 until he retired with his wife Kathleen.
“When I moved back to Polson I wandered out to the airport to look for something to do and met Chuck,” Normandeau said.
That’s when the two like-minded men became friends and Jarecki introduced Normandeau to the Recreational Aviation Foundation where the two men spent more than 10 years working together to help preserve the field of aviation and its back-country landing strips.
“He would talk about it out there and piqued my interest in the organization,” Normandeau said. “I said I’d like to become involved in that. So I did and I became what they call Chuck’s grunt. Chuck would give me tasks to do and I would go out and do them.”
Jarecki and Normandeau’s friendship took them to some of Montana’s most interesting places and challenged them to pave the way for future pilots.
Their first working adventure was the preservation of Ryan Field near West Glacier.
The field was given to the RAF by Ben and Butchy Ryan, two World War II veterans who now reside at a senior living facility in Columbia Falls.
The goal of the project was to develop the airfield so it can be used by recreational pilots, Normandeau said.
The two men, accompanied by three or four other people cleared brush, built a shelter, a restroom facility and filled gopher holes, enabling pilots to land safely at the location.
From there, the two men became involved in an airfield restoration project called the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument Project, created by a Clinton era proclamation in 2001 that designated 378,000 acres of land that included 10 existing airstrips, as national monuments.
Jarecki and Normandeau helped create a necessary environmental impact report as well as other government paperwork needed to see six of the 10 airstrips restored.
But before the pair helped accomplish the project’s goals, they flew to regular meetings across the state.
“Chuck is a person I respect because of who he is and what he does, and I like doing the same kind of thing, so it’s a mutual interest kind of thing,” Normandeau said.
Jarecki, who served nearly 12 years as Western Director for the Montana Pilots Association, was awarded the President’s Award by the Montana Pilots Association at this year’s Montana Aeronautics Aviation conference held from March 3 to March 5.
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