Arnold family still to care for Aztec Airport after Mike Arnold's death

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Before Mike Arnold's sudden death last Saturday, day-to-day operations at the Aztec Municipal Airport was a family affair.

Arnold took over managerial duties at the airport in 1988.

For now, his wife, Patricia, and son, Mike Jr., plan to continue overseeing the twin-runway airport along with support from the state aviation department. Mike and Patricia Arnold took up residence on the airport grounds in 1999.

Michael "Mike" Arnold, 62, died last Saturday when he lost control of his single-engine plane and crashed during takeoff from the airport.

Arnold's body was taken on Saturday to Albuquerque for an autopsy. Results are pending. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

City Manager Joshua Ray plans to meet with the Arnold family next week to decide whether or not a replacement director is needed.

"We will discuss (this) with the Arnold family next week and go from there," Ray said.

Arnold, who grew up in Farmington and moved to Aztec in 1970, served as Aztec mayor twice.

Like the many people Arnold knew, family friend and former Farmington Mayor Bill Standley is still trying to put the loss of his friend into perspective. He will deliver the eulogy at Arnold's funeral.

"It's not only a tragic accident but a big loss," Standley said. "I can still hardly believe it. Mike was such a wonderful guy, so much fun to be with. He went through life every day like it was the last day."

Standley met Arnold in 1998 when he elected as Farmington's mayor and Arnold was starting his first term as mayor of Aztec.

"When I first met him, I took an immediate liking to him," Standley said. "Mike was quite a character and very, very smart. He could have easily been an aeronautical engineer. No matter what the subject, Mike knew about it."

Standley was amused when Arnold drove around town in a truck that ran on biodiesel, which was recycled cooking oil Arnold collected from friends' restaurants.

"I never knew if it was Chinese food or french fries," Standley said. "I was always giving him a hard time about the funny smell of his truck. He was an early recycler."

Like so many facets of his life, Arnold's interests were wide-ranging and a natural extension of his restless curiosity, friends said.

"He was a tinkerer, a Jack of all trades," Mike Arnold Jr. said. "He started blending biofuel back around 2006 when gas prices started to spike. It was a hobby, one of many of his."

Arnold held a degree in electrical engineering and radio broadcasting. Before serving on the city commission, Arnold was a radio broadcast engineer for local AM radio station.

Beyond aviation and mayoral duties, Arnold was president of the Kiwanis club, a member of the San Juan Wildlife Federation and the Sports Car Club of America and board member of the New Mexico Municipal League.

"He and I used to race dwarf cars all the time at Aztec Speedway when I was growing up," Mike Arnold Jr. said. "He was always doing something to help the community or just to have fun."

Most of all, Arnold was committed to Aztec.

"Probably the thing I'll always remember about him was that he was always trying to do something to help improve Aztec," Mike Arnold Jr. said. "Whether it was trying to grow the motocross and BMX courses or improving the city's parks, he was involved on a number of committees even long before his work on the commission."

Bill Fulginiti, executive director for the New Mexico Municipal League, met Arnold when Arnold became mayor.

"Mike had the best sense of humor and was always positive," Fulginiti said. "I have worked with a lot of elected officials over the years, but Mike was more, he was a real friend."

"He just loved Aztec," Mike Arnold Jr. said. "I would ask him why and he would just smile, saying he adopted Aztec and Aztec adopted him."

Arnold's funeral service will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 1, at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Aztec. Interment at Aztec Cemetery will follow the service. Reception in the parish hall will follow.

A donation in lieu of flowers can be made to the San Juan Wildlife Federation.

James Fenton can be reached; 505-564-4621. Follow him on Twitter@FentonDT.