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Aviation organization honors Willmar woman

WILLMAR -- Longtime Willmar resident Mary Jane Rice was inducted Saturday into the prestigious International Forest of Friendship in Atchison, Kan.

The organization is a living memorial to the world history of aviation and aerospace. It is a park made up of trees from all 50 states and 35 countries around the world. The originators of the forest envisioned "world friendship through flying.''

According to a news release, Rice joins 1,200 other honorees whose names are engraved on granite plaques and displayed on walkways throughout the wooded park.

Included in this list are such aviation notables as Amelia Earhart, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Sally Ride, Gen. "Jimmy'' Doolittle and the seven astronauts lost on the shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Rice, as well as all other honorees, was selected on the basis of her genuine interest and lifelong contribution to the field of aviation. She and her husband, John L. Rice, started the airport operation in Willmar in 1946 and successfully managed it as Willmar Air Service Inc. for many years.

She was also honored in 1994 when she was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

This year, Rice was among 21 inductees into the International Forest of Friendship. She was nominated and sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, of which she has been a member since 1939.

-- Staff reports