Taking flight in Port Lavaca: Dianna Stanger talks about life on the ranch, in the air

Trysta Eakin

April 2, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.

Dianna Stanger is a business owner, lover of aviation and community-oriented kind of gal. GC caught up with her between cattle runs and take off to find out what makes her life in the Golden Crescent enjoyable.

When did you move to this region and what has been your favorite aspect of it?

My husband, Al, and I came here in 1997 and purchased an old vacant ranch house located on 200 acres in Olivia. Our area is so unique with the vast expanses of land and water. The most amazing and favorite part of it is the variety of the land's inhabitants - anything from a 13-foot alligator we captured on a hunt, to the thrill of seeing the white pelicans that inhabit our point.

What businesses do you own?

Believe me, when we moved here we went for years without many people knowing, just building the ranch. Wolf Point Ranch was the first and it is now coming into its own by breeding the very top of the line black Brangus cattle. The changes in the cattle industry since we have ranched have come with a steep learning curve. Wolf Point is now able to breed for a specific sex in cattle, and that just amazes me.

A natural pairing for the ranch was the Bayou Feed Barn, which is a supplier of the Purina feed we use. In maintaining one of our ranches and the acres of unique and wonderful landscaping, we started using our equipment on area football fields and golf courses, which led to our latest company Greenscape Methods.

My husband loves good food and is tired of leaving our area to dine in a nice restaurant with atmosphere, which led to him building Shellfish Sports Bar and Grille.

I have a love of aviation and wanted to help Calhoun County reclaim the business they were losing at the airport; as a result, I also have an airport business for fuel, hanger space and flight school.

The backbone of all of our holdings is definitely Electro-Methods located in Connecticut. Electro-Methods manufactures jet engine parts and has now been in business for 50 years. It is just a great company that has terrific employees.

Which of those would you say you spend the most time with and why?

This year I am concentrating the most on Calhoun Air Center. I have just acquired Victoria Flyers located at the Victoria Regional Airport and am working on making a flight school worthy of the residents of our area. Our school is taught with a proven program that Cessna Aircraft has developed, which is why Cessna has taught more pilots than any other company. And I get to fly. That in itself can keep me there for hours.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a strong woman in business?

That's a tough one. I think the biggest challenge is that I am very set in what I want done, how I want it done, and impossibly short on patience. That tends to give me a label that I am not always happy with (something), but it sometimes can work in my favor when the reputation precedes me for a meeting.

What are some of the ways you give back to the community?

In these times, one of the toughest parts are keeping our employees working, and we will create jobs just to make sure that we can keep our better employees employed. It is tough out there for the job market and our employees have been very good to us through the good times; we are trying to be there for them through the bad.

At Calhoun Air Center, we strive to get kids interested in aviation, which can lead to a future career. Every year we host a Kids Day for the local schools, and for a full day we have about 350 kids that come out and get exposed to flying, aviation, weather, the Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol and many other things they may not ever be able to see again. If just one of those minds starts to get shaped toward a career, then it is worth it. In addition to the Kids Day, we also run a coloring contest that Texas Department of Transportation sponsors each year. Children of all levels compete, and last year we had a winner that went on to get recognized by the State of Texas and their state representative.

I love where we live and am constantly trying to give something back in some form.

What drew you to Port Lavaca and why should others be interested in the small coastal community?

Oh no. The truth is going to come out. My husband and I hate the cold and lost our home in the Abaco's to a hurricane. With nothing left for us, we could locate nearly anywhere when my husband challenged me - if I could find a location, on the water, without neighbors and below the frost line, he would consider moving. Viola. Here we are.

Visitors to our area are constantly amazed at the vast amount of activities. From fishing to hunting, this area has it all. Along with a great infrastructure, it is a unique location for many of us. Add to the fact that Texas is still doing well compared to the rest of the country. At any number of our local businesses, you will find the kind of warmth and hospitality that makes you want to stay.

The Shellfish is popular across the Golden Crescent and beyond. What do you think the restaurant has that makes it unique to the area?

Ambiance, menu, location. Our food is freshly prepared and served in a very nice setting. Our menu has many of the local specialties and locally grown seafood. It is certainly worth a trip to dine on the water and have a nice relaxing dinner or lunch.

What are some events associated with any of your businesses coming up that people can get excited about?

Green beer and revelry of St. Patrick's Day. Shellfish is continually entertaining for each holiday with special fare and drinks.

In May we will be having the Kids Day at the airport. That is truly amazing to see and we need volunteers. Along with other pilots in our area the kids get exposed to what may become their life's ambition.

Bayou Feed Barn will be having some special events along with Purina. This is a great time to determine the nutritional needs of your stock and enjoy some good expert advice.

I understand you are also a helicopter pilot, what are some of your favorite experiences you can relate to us?

Actually I am more than a helicopter pilot, I am also captain rated in a Hawker jet. Currently I fly a Eurocopter Helicopter, a Husky bush plane, the jet and my grandfather's Waco Biplane.

My favorite helicopter story would be when I flew a boy who the Make-A-Wish foundation sponsored. He lived in Austin and I flew him down the center of town along the river. The control tower was so good to us, they let us see all the spectacular homes along the waterways and then tour downtown. He was a special boy and (it was) a very special ride for me.

I had the Waco completely restored and am now gaining some proficiency on it. A friend has taught me how to do loops and rolls in it and it is so exhilarating to be able to do it on my own. When I get in that plane, it is the best stress reliever there is; so anytime I fly it makes it special.

As a female captain I get plenty of funny looks, add to the fact that my female co-pilot is just about a twin to me. The two of us have had airport personnel literally wait at the door of the plane after we have gone inside waiting for the "real" pilot to emerge. Makes us giggle like little girls every time.

You'll be competing in the Women's Air Race Classic in June. Tell us a little about the competition and what you must do to prep for it.

In the middle of June, I will be doing a total of 2,365 nautical miles in the Husky for the Women's Air Race Classic. This is the oldest women's race in the country and was founded by Amelia Earhart. This will be the first year I have done it and am really looking forward to it. Starting in Iowa, it covers South and North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and ends in Alabama. The plane I will be flying seats only two and is a "stick and rudder" plane that will make it feel like we are "back in the day" while flying. Along with a great crew, the race should be a highlight of my flying and life.

How long have you and your husband been married and what's been your secret to success?

Al and I are now going on 18 years, having known each other for 10 before that. When we met we both knew it was special. Al has always believed in me and told me that there is nothing I cannot do. We support each other, even with our different interests; when it comes down to one of us needing input, the other is there. There is not a time when we look at each other that we don't think about how far we have come and how glad it was together.



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