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From Car Mechanic to CEO and Command Pilot

From Car Mechanic to CEO and Command Pilot

Don Carruth hasn’t always flown high. He left school after the tenth grade and spent the early part of his career as a Volkswagen mechanic in Midland, Texas. In 1969, his boss, Richard Stovall, introduced Don to flying. Don earned his license a year later, but “I couldn’t afford to fly much then.”

[Pictured above: Don Carruth on a recent mission with a couple of favorite, frequent AFSC passengers: 14-year-old Rameses and his mother, Amy.]

Don continued to thrive as a mechanic and eventually opened his own Volkswagen repair business. But in 1976, his father lost one of his key employees at his pump repair business. Don joined his father’s three other employees at Don-Nan Pump & Supply Company. When his father died unexpectedly a couple of years later, Don took charge of the company; he was 29 years old. Over the course of the next three decades, he built the company from four employees to 400, added a new location and a manufacturing plant. He sold the company in 2014 and retired in 2017, leaving Don-Nan as one of the largest rod pump manufacturers and most sophisticated repair facilities in the world.

When the company began to thrive in the 1980s, Don returned to flying, purchasing a Cherokee 235. He has cycled through several planes since, and now flies a Socata TMB 910. Having the chance to fly again was a true thrill. “I’ve always enjoyed flying,” says Don. “It’s a departure from the earth. You have to really concentrate when you’re flying, so you leave all your worries and troubles behind and concentrate on getting from point A to point B.”

It was shortly after he returned to flying that Don heard about Angel Flight South Central—though he doesn’t recall how he learned of the organization. The idea behind Angel Flight appealed to him immediately. “It’s basically my ministry,” he says. “A lot of people are civic-minded. This is a good way for me to fly and give back.”

[Above: Don on another recent mission with Irma and Alonzo Rivera.]

Since retirement, Don has committed to flying a mission every month, and often exceeds that goal. Meeting this quota has been more challenging than it might seem, since there are few Angel Flight requests out of west Texas. So Don makes it a point to seek out last-minute flight requests since his post-retirement schedule allows him to be more flexible. Only about 10 percent of his missions actually fly out of Midland; for the other 90 percent he flies to another airport to pick up his passenger, flies them to their destination, and then returns home. In the mission pictured above, for example, Don flew to El Paso to pick up the Riveras, took them to San Angelo, and then flew back to Midland.

Don’s commitment to Angel Flight South Central has resulted in a number of repeat passengers, including a 28-year-old woman with brain cancer whom he’s been flying recently. “She’ll be in these treatments for the rest of her life,” he says. “And I’ll be flying her.”

[Above: Don with his wife, Cathy.]

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