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Family creates Diffley scholarship; Program geared toward aspiring pilots

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BEMIDJI -- A scholarship has been created in honor of Larry Diffley, the late president of Bemidji Aviation who died in a plane crash in 2012.

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The Larry Diffley Memorial Aviation Scholarship Fund has been established by Diffley's children to help aspiring pilots in the local area. The fund will provide annual scholarships to qualified applicants who plan to advance their flight training at Bemidji Aviation.

Applications for the first awards are now available and are due June 20. Students who intend to advance their flight training at Bemidji Aviation, have a deep passion for flying, and intend to pursue aviation as a career are invited to apply, officials said in a news release. Applicants must be at least 17-years-old, possess a valid 3rd Class Medical Certificate, have successfully completed the appropriate FAA written examination and achieved solo flight. Complete eligibility requirements are included with the application materials.

The scholarship was established to honor Diffley's passion for quality aviation training and to help others who intend to become professional pilots.

"The scholarships will be a big boost to the aviation community by providing funds to flight students who are pursuing their dream of becoming a professional pilot," said Mark Shough, president of Bemidji Aviation, in the news release.

Diffley grew up on a small farm in Becida. In his early years, he lived with his parents and siblings in a tarpaper house lacking modern-day amenities. He graduated from Bemidji High School, worked on the family farm, attended Bemidji State College and then joined the National Guard. He moved to Los Angeles, became a UPS driver, learned to fly and met future business partner Shough. While living in Los Angeles, Diffley married Mimi Stevens of Edina.

In 1970, Diffley purchased Bemidji Aviation with Shough. Diffley became the main pilot while Shough, himself a pilot, assumed more of a mechanic's role, according to the release. The pair grew the company from two employees and three airplanes, to more than 50 employees and 37 airplanes offering a multitude of flying services. They also created and operated Bemidji Airlines, providing service throughout Minnesota between 1981 and 1991.

"He was a significant player in this market for aviation, a phenomenal pilot and a great instructor," said Tom Letson, a first officer for Delta Air Lines who flew for Diffley early in his career, in the release.

It was a shock to family and friends when Diffley died in an airplane crash on Dec. 4, 2012, while doing an aerial pipeline survey near Manhattan, Ill. At the time of his death, he had accumulated more than 28,000 hours of flight time.

"My dad was born to work and loved to fly," said son Tony Diffley in the release. "He once said, 'In a lot of respects, I never worked a day in my life.'"

The scholarship application is available by contacting Tracie Walter at Bemidji Aviation at 751-1889 or by emailing traciew@bemidjiaviation.com, or by contacting Peggy Crandall at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation by calling 759-2057 or emailing peggyc@nwmf.org.

Anyone wishing to support the scholarship fund can contact Lisa Peterson, Northwest Minnesota Foundation development officer, by calling (800) 659-7859 or emailing lisap@nwmf.org. Secure online contributions are accepted at www.nwmf.org; click Donate Now and scroll to Larry Diffley Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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