Bart Spadaro turned a 24-acre chicken farm on Montauk Highway in East Moriches into his very own "highway to heaven," building Spadaro Airport and teaching flight classes.
Spadaro, a pilot and aviation enthusiast, died Oct. 5 in his Lake Placid, Fla., home of natural causes, family said. He was 84.
"Dad has accumulated some 25,000 hours flying," said his daughter Susan Spadaro, 45, of East Moriches. "He loved the perspective and freedom and the joy that he was able to bring to other people."
Bartholomew Fredrick Spadaro, known as 'Bart,' was born to Italian immigrants in Bay Shore. His love of flying was cemented in 1943, when he was named a cadet in Bay Shore High School's Civil Air Patrol and got his first ride in an L3 Defender, Susan Spadaro said.
He quit school at age 16 to work full time at the former Zahn's Airport in Amityville and received his pilot's license the following year, she said.
Spadaro joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served for about 21/2 years as a mechanic before he was honorably discharged, and married Zilda Cerabino. The pair opened Bart's Auto & Aviation Service in 1960, where he fixed planes and automobiles, his daughter said.
The site eventually grew into a reliever airport designated by the Federal Aviation Administration to handle small aircraft traffic overflow from Long Island MacArthur Airport, she said.
Spadaro's career also was honored by the Long Island General Aviation Recognition Council, she added.
From the 1970s to the early 1990s, Spadaro developed a service that transported passengers from the 23rd Street marina dock in Manhattan to Fire Island and the Hamptons, his daughter said.
He was also a pioneer in aerial advertising on Long Island, creating banners that were flown across the Island in the 1970s, she said.
"What so many people really loved about him was . . . he made aviation so accessible and tangible," she said.
Steve Schukawetz, 55, one of Spadaro's last students, said despite Spadaro's "lack of polish, with a tiny airport, with everything being so homespun and rustic, there was a genuine care."
Schukawetz, of Flushing, Queens, said, "The airport is so small you have to develop your skills to a much higher level in order to be able to take off and land there."
Former student Richard Sellentin, 70, of Bridgehampton, described Spadaro as honorable.
"If he thought that someone wasn't up for flying, he wouldn't string them along and give them lessons," Sellentin said. "That's pretty honest, since that's how he made his living. It's impressive."
In addition to his daughter Susan, Spadaro is survived by daughter Barbara Shields of Oley, Pa.; sisters Lena DeCarmine of Islip and Gracie Sanfratello of Sound Beach; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his wife Zilda, son Fred Spadaro, daughter Zilda Spadaro Wolan, and sister Connie Scarangello.
Services were held at Sinnickson's Moriches Funeral Home and, after a farewell flight, Spadaro was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.