Come Fly With Me

Dale and Patty Klapmeier's campus romance got off the ground courtesy of a date among the clouds.

Most people would have looked at the single-engine plane resting upside down at a Wisconsin airport and seen little more than a wreck. Dale Klapmeier ’83, on the other hand, saw his future. That wreck was the first plane aeronautics aficionado Dale would ever own. He spent two years refurbishing it with his brother, Alan, at their family’s farm near Baraboo, Wisconsin. The duo would go on to build additional planes, working from manufacturer plans, before striking out on their own as aircraft designers and builders. In 1984, they founded the company that would become Cirrus Aircraft, which Forbes magazine has labeled “the world’s largest small-aircraft producer by unit volume.”

The former wreck also proved to be instrumental in securing Dale’s personal happiness, since it was the very plane in which he and UWSP coed Patty Meyer—now Patty Klapmeier ’83—took to the skies the morning after their first date. “So, look how that turned out,” says Patty of their momentous flight.


At first Patty Meyer thought she might be hearing a clever pickup line, designed to impress. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point undergrad was sitting in a café on a first date with Dale Klapmeier, a fellow UWSP student she had met through mutual friends. As they were finishing their fish fry, Dale asked if she’d like to go flying with him the next day—in his personal plane, with him as the pilot. “I kept saying, ‘You must be kidding. You’re serious?’” Patty recalls.

A licensed pilot since he was a teen, Dale was totally serious. But to be fair, he also may have been trying to impress Patty with his aviation prowess after what he considers their lackluster initial introduction. The two had met briefly in the spring of 1982, their junior year, at Partners Grill and Pub. “That very first time we met, Patty did not like me much,” says Dale, a statement Patty wholeheartedly refutes.

“When we first met, it was really in passing. I had no opinion,” she tells her husband. “There was no like or dislike. It was just a passing hello.”

Dale counters with a playful, “I was intrigued that she hadn’t paid attention to me.”

Things went better in the fall, when they connected at a surprise birthday party thrown by Patty’s roommate for her boyfriend, who happened to be Dale’s roommate. “I noticed him, believe me,” Patty says of Dale. “I was smitten at that party.”

Two weeks later, Dale called and asked her to dinner at a small Stevens Point restaurant (the name of which eludes them both today) with red-and-white checked tablecloths. “It was adorable,” says Patty.

Even though she had never traveled by plane before, she was game when, after dinner, Dale invited her to fly with him. Being in a small plane for the first time can do a number on the stomach of even experienced flyers. So there was Patty, dealing with the possibility of motion sickness, coupled with general nerves and brisk winds. “I guess if I felt a little sick because of the bumpy ride, I wouldn’t have shown it because I’m pretty smart. You wouldn’t do that on a date,” she says.

As it turns out, she handled her first flight like a champ. The couple flew a few more times over the three years Dale and Patty  dated, but in order to save money, they mostly stuck to terra firma. While they were still in school, date nights could mean anything from studying together in the library to dinner and a movie, to simply hanging out with friends.

After a dinner date at her off-campus apartment, Patty called her mother one evening to report that Dale was “the type of guy I’d like to marry.”

Although the subject of a wedding had been considered and broached, neither of them was in a particular rush to get married.

“I think one of the things that we did that was smart was we didn’t get married right out of school,” says Dale. “We had a year and a half to make sure that it wasn’t just a school romance. Although we were thinking about it from the time we graduated.”

Patty agrees, recommending that university sweethearts wait a bit after graduation before saying their vows. “You’re on your own, and that’s a big change. If you can get through that, and everything stays strong, then it’s a good time to take that next step.”

The two were wed on May 11, 1985, in a small church in Roxbury, near Dale’s family farm/vacation home, which was where he and Alan had salvaged that first plane and began their company.

Right after graduation, Dale had put his business administration degree to good use getting Cirrus up and running. Patty, who had majored in fashion merchandizing and minored in business administration, had secured an assistant manager position at clothing retailer County Seat, later moving on to a management position at Foxmoor.

“Patty was bringing in most of our income for the first few years of our marriage,” Dale says.

“I started out in fashion merchandizing,” Patty confirms, “but found out I really like more of the business, bookkeeping side. So I’m very glad I had a minor.” At one point after the couple had married, she was working as a bookkeeper at a local bank and doing the books for Cirrus as well. When that became too much, she dropped all other work to concentrate on her role at Cirrus, as well as caring for sons Ryan and Blake and the family home. She worked full-time for the company through the 1990s.

“I didn’t get a paycheck,” she says, then adds with a laugh, “I did it for love.”

“She has been my partner in business and in life,” her husband says.

Patty has done more than just work on the company’s books, however. She and the boys served as an inspiration for Cirrus’ aircraft designs.

“Since being married and having kids, the design for our airplanes has been to make sure that Patty wanted to fly more than drive,” says Dale. He attributes advances in safety features and making cockpit instrumentation “far more intuitive” to his desire to make Patty—and, by extension, other nonpilots— comfortable and secure as passengers in a
Cirrus plane.

“If Patty is happy, then other spouses will be happy,” notes Dale, “and our pilots will fly more and use their airplanes.”

Patty also deserves at least part of the credit for the company’s emphasis on customer service. It is a quality she is keenly attuned to, having worked for years in retail.

“Customers come first,” she says. “That’s so important. If you don’t give good service, then you’re not going to have returning customers and you’re not going to have good word of mouth.” In addition to manufacturing and selling airplanes, Cirrus now services its products and conducts flight training. To Dale, it’s all about strengthening the Cirrus brand. “We want everything our customers do around our airplanes to be through us, not through somebody else,” he says.

Dale and Patty will spend this Valentine’s Day out of town on business. They are unsure of their plans to celebrate the occasion, but two things are certain: They will be flying to their destination, and whatever they wind up doing that evening, they’ll be together.