Billy Henderson

SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In Inc. mourns the loss of its Founder, Billy Henderson, and shares the date for his Celebration of Life.

For Immediate Release
May 6, 2019

Lakeland, FL: The aviation industry was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a friend, Billy Henderson, this past April 12th 2019. Founder and former Executive Director of SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In, Billy Henderson’s family and extended SUN ‘n FUN family will be celebrating his life on Sunday, June 23rd.

There are only a handful of individuals that made such a mark on Central Florida as did Billy Henderson. Many agree he was a significant contributor to putting Lakeland, Florida on the map because of the impact his vision had on tourism, education, and economic development. Henderson is credited as the founding father of the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In. His idea to host a Fly-In began in 1974 as a sketch on the back of a cereal box. What began with 700 participants has grown to become the largest annual convention in the state of Florida and the second largest airshow of its kind in the world with over 230,000 attendees from 80 countries throughout a 6 day event. The Fly-In’s proceeds annually fund many youth aviation-based programs and scholarships.

The SUN ‘n FUN organization’s culture of southern hospitality was instilled early and remains in place today. “Billy’s idea for an event actually created a family that has sustained itself for over 45 years”, says Dr. Harley Richards, Chairman of SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In, Inc. “That family consists of 3500 volunteers who look forward to seeing each other every year. Our new volunteers always comment that part of their experience is becoming a part of this tight-knitted community”.

Billy Henderson was born in Bartow, FL in 1929 and recalled his first plane ride when he was six years old in a biplane over Lake Alfred. His love of flying continued as he juggled his daytime job as a body-shop manager of a Cadillac dealership with owning and restoring numerous airplanes. Henderson eventually earned his pilot license and is also credited with being a charter member the local Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 454 that still exists today.

Members of the Henderson family, including Billy’s wife Adair and son Arthur, were instrumental in building the long-standing success of the Fly-In as well as establishing an aviation museum, currently known as Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum. John “Lites” Leenhouts credits Henderson with enabling SUN ‘n FUN to evolve to a youth-based education non-profit organization. “Billy’s vision included engaging, educating and inspiring our youth as to the wonders of aviation. He spearheaded many of the initiatives that we have in place today as part of our Aerospace Center for Excellence.”

A celebration of Billy Henderson’s life will be held at the Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum on Sunday, June 23rd at 4pm. As space is limited, an RSVP is respectfully requested. If unable to attend, personal notes can be left and will be shared with the family as well.

In lieu of flowers, the Henderson Family requests that donations be made to SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In with the designation Memorial Gardens Project.

Blue Skies Billy.

Carol Cali
Director of Marketing

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