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Larry and Maxine Durst pose for a photograph near a plane they use as part of the Young Eagles Program in Roseburg.

For nearly three decades, Larry Durst has shared his joy of flying with children in Douglas County.

“I started being interested in flying when I was a little kid,” he said. “Before I did the balsa wood airplanes, I would take a piece of wood, my pocket knife and carve an airplane.”

Since starting with the Young Eagles Program, Larry Durst has flown 7,558 children in his airplane toward Umpqua Community College, then to the Wildlife Safari and River Forks Park before heading back to the airport in Roseburg.

In all it’s a 20 minute flight, during which time his wife, Maxine Durst, helps parents understand the program.

Maxine Durst started helping with the program in 2003, and has recruited thousands of third, fourth and fifth graders from Roseburg schools to participate in the program.

Maxine Durst said she was terrified the first time she got in the airplane. She quickly got over her fears, but has no interest in becoming a pilot herself.

Larry Durst got his pilot’s license in 1964, the year after he started dating Maxine.

In November, the Durst’s will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. When asked what the secret of their marriage was, Larry Durst said, “You can’t have two horses pulling in opposite directions, and we’ve been pretty supportive of each other.”

Larry Durst first came to Roseburg in 1958 when he was a dental student. A month before he graduated from dental school in 1962, he had the opportunity to buy a dental practice in Roseburg and did.

Maxine graduated college in 1962 and was hired by Oregon State University to come to Roseburg as a cooperative extension agent.

In 1963, Maxine was judging a cookie contest and broke her tooth. This landed her in the dental chair with the young dentist in town.

“I thought those were some great cookies,” Larry Durst said. “I became a winner on that one.”

In 1967, the young married couple took a month-long vacation where they saw all the sights on the East Coast with Larry Durst as the pilot.

“We stopped at all the historical spots,” Maxine Durst said. “We thought we’d never be back there again.”

Once they had children, Jennifer and Jeff, the Dursts wouldn’t spend as much time in the air, but it certainly remained a part of their lives.

Their children participated in the German American Partnership Program, where students from Roseburg would visit Germany and German students would visit Roseburg.

As part of the experience, Larry Durst would take the students for a flight to Crater Lake.

In 1994, Norman Neal asked Larry Durst to participate in the Young Eagle Program. And in 2003, Maxine Durst started helping with the recruitment of children and scheduling the flights.

“It’s just grown to where we fly anywhere from 350 to, well we did as many as 600 in a summer but never again,” Maxine Durst said. “Now, we reach just a little under 400.”

Just like Maxine was scared the first time she got into an airplane, many of the children also have some fears about flying.

“I explain to them that this is a normal experience. You’re doing something you’ve never done before, so don’t feel bad about being scared,” Larry Durst said. “My first airplane ride I wasn’t sure about it either. So this is just a normal reaction.”

He then explains what’s about to happen and once the children get up in the sky, their fears quickly dissipate.

Larry Durst said he enjoys hearing the stories children tell.

“There were two little girls and one was in the front seat, one’s in the backseat,” Larry Durst said. “We’re flying from River Forks Park back to the airport and the little girl in the backseat was standing up, hanging on to the seats. The older girl, who’s in the front seat with me, she’s just telling me about her dad catching fish in the rivers: salmon, steelhead and stuff like that. And the little girl goes ‘Don’t forget bait fish.’ That was so cute.”

Another time he was flying between Roseburg and Winston and a girl spotted sheep down below, when her brother pointed out those were actually bales of hay.

Maxine Durst said she enjoys hearing the stories Larry tells and watching the faces of the children once they get off the airplane.

“You can just see that excitement,” Maxine said.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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