A Wing, a Prayer—and Three Wheels

updated 11/23/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/23/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

THERE WAS QUITE A STIR IN CABLE, Wis., last fall, when the locals found out that Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret was going to be flying out of their very own Cable Union Airport. It isn't every day that British royalty shows up in Cable, a resort town in northern Wisconsin's lake country. "My wife, Betty, and I came over," says Bill Nemec. "Not to see the Princess, but to see what Libby would do."

As it turned out, Libby Parod, who manages the little airport all by herself—and is the only employee—didn't do anything outrageous; she even wore shoes, which she usually doesn't except in cold weather.

"Everyone was disappointed," she says.

Libby doesn't often disappoint her fans. "This isn't an airport," she says. "It's a zoo." Indeed, for the pilots of the corporate and private aircraft that arrive daily at Cable Union, the experience can be quite different from landing at, say, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. As at many small airports, there is no air-traffic control. For the first pilot of the day, though, there is a real hazard: the task of dragging Libby's galvanized-iron bathtub outside her living quarters in the terminal to empty it. And then there's Libby's lunch counter. "The pilots always say they come here to see what I've got cooking," says Libby. "My food makes them miserable." On a recent stopover, Chicago restaurateur Chuck Krueger found himself considering Libby's offering of "Rum cake? Some fudge? How about moose chili?" Krueger's wary response: "When was the moose killed?"

Parking a plane overnight at the airport costs $1. "And," says Libby, "if you can't afford it, stay home." Planes leaving the airport are led to one of the two runways by Libby herself, pedaling a three-wheel cycle with a sign that says FOLLOW ME on the back.

Libby has been managing the airport since 1949—by herself since her husband Carl's death in 1959. She earns $2,500 a year from the local airport commission, plus what she can make off gas sales and renting the hangars. "My needs are small," she says. "I work eight days a week, dawn to dawn. Nobody tells me what to do—and I tell a lot of people where to go."

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