DURAND — On Oct. 26, 2010, a U.S. Air Force B-52 taking off from Guam experienced a catastrophic failure of one of the aircraft’s eight engines, and the flight crew worked quickly to land the plane safely.
The crew, which included 2001 Durand High School graduate Phillip Demeter — then a U.S. Air Force captain — received the 2010 Ira C. Eaker Outstanding Airmanship Award for demonstrating outstanding airmanship while handling an in-flight emergency.
Cut to a day in Flint, where Lyn Behnke was working as a nurse in the coronary critical care unit at St. Joseph Hospital (now closed). She visited the room of a neighbor from Durand who had just been admitted with heart problems. Almost immediately, the man went into cardiac arrest. She resuscitated him, saving his life.
The Durand Educational Foundation has just chosen Demeter and Behnke to receive the 2019 Durand Distinguished Alumni Award, given since 2015. This year, 18 new nominations were considered, along with multiple carry-overs from previous years. Members of the Foundation and the Durand alumni association did the judging.
The two recipients will be honored at a reception set for 3 to 5 p.m. Aug. 11 at Durand Union Station that’s open to the public. A brief presentation will take place at 3:30 p.m.
“It was challenging to make a selection,” said Jan Harper, chairwoman of the Durand Educational Foundation. “People so often under-estimate the work Durand graduates do. It’s wonderful to see how they contribute to their towns and nation and the world. It’s amazing to me.”
It’s no wonder Demeter, 36, with four generations of pilots in his family, has always loved planes. Today, he serves as a major in the Michigan Air National Guard, following 12 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force. He is also a first officer pilot at Delta Airlines. When he’s not up in the sky, he lives with his wife, Nicole, and their children, Lucas, 7, and Allison, 5, in New Lothrop.
“I’m extremely honored — I didn’t expect it,” Demeter said. “All I’m doing is pursuing my passion. I have to give thanks to the people who helped me get here: The biggest one has to go to my wife. While I’m off flying around the world, she’s keeping up the home front. She’s always supporting me, and without her support I don’t think any of these things would be possible.”
After graduating from Durand, Demeter received his commission as a distinguished graduate from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2006. He has served as a B-52 aircraft commander, B-2 instructor pilot, T-38A evaluator pilot and KC-135 aircraft commander.
He is a senior pilot with more than 2,500 total flying hours, including support of Bomber Assurance and Deterrence missions throughout the Pacific Theater. What was it like for him when the engine failed on takeoff from Guam?
“It’s one of those things, the training kind of kicks in,” Demeter said. “You could definitely sense that it was a big deal. We focused on working as a crew and getting the plane back on the ground.”
Demeter coordinated and led the 75th 8th Air Force Parade of Airpower at the world’s largest air show, the Experimental Aviation Assocation’s AirVenture 2017. It was the first time a B-2, B-18 and B-52 had ever flown in formation at an air show.
“It was a huge honor, and it was a blast to be leading a formation of three American bombers,” Demeter said. “The 8th Air Force, that was the unit my grandfather (World War II side gunner John Demeter) served in.”
Phillip Demeter left the Air Force and joined the Michigan Air National Guard, a part-time service. Holding an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate with the Federal Aviation Administration, he works full-time as a pilot/first officer at Delta Airlines, flying Boeing 757s and 767s on domestic and international flights out of Detroit.
“He’s made me the proudest man in the world,” said Dennis Demeter of Vernon Township, who nominated his son for the award. “If there’s anything that makes me happier than the fact that he’s a heckuva pilot, it’s that he’s an even better father.”
Behnke, 60, a member of the DHS class of 1976 who lives in Tawas City, possesses a resume of education, professional experience and community giving so long it might leave some breathless. For one thing, she has worked for many years as a critical care and head nurse, and currently has her own practice as a nurse practitioner.
At the same time, she is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, teaching graduate students in the doctoral program for nursing practice. A dedicated musician who specializes in the saxophone, she plays in many ensembles. Finally, she is involved in several service and philanthropic activities.
Her response to winning the 2019 Durand Distinguished Alumni award: “I’m still humbled by it,” Behnke said. “Lots of really wonderful people have gone before me. It’s amazing that this little community has impacted the world the way we have.”
Behnke’s aunt was a nurse, but she pursued a career in the health care field for another reason.
“I did it because my sister broke my finger,” she said.
Here’s what happened: Behnke was slated to audition for a college program for band directors the next day. It was a difficult solo, and she couldn’t play with a broken finger.
“My aunt always wanted me to be a nurse,” she said. “Fortunately, I’ve managed to do both.”
Behnke graduated from the Mercy School of Nursing in Detroit, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in health care administration from Central Michigan University. Next, she got a master’s degree in nursing to become a nurse practitioner. Finally, she received a doctorate in nursing practice from Rocky Mountain School of Health Professions.
Eventually, she opened her own family nursing practice in Tawas, offering integrative medicine, including acupuncture, and long-term care. She drives down to Flint twice a week to instruct graduate nursing students. Often, she plays the baritone sax in the UM-Flint jazz ensemble.
Over the years, she has performed in numerous bands and ensembles, large and small, playing in pit orchestras for community theater productions, traveling to Europe to tour with an adult community band, and working as a volunteer with local school musical groups, bands and choirs.
Behnke serves on the governing board for WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. She is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Cherokee Good Medicine Society, is an associate of the American College of Cardiology, a founding member of the Michigan Council on Holistic Integration, and serves on the board of the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency.
“I feel very lucky,” Behnke said when asked why she is involved in so many organizations. “It’s important for me to make sure people have a chance to get a leg up.”
Joyce Graim of Durand said in her essay nominating Behnke that she “is an excellent example of the characteristics of a Distinguished Alumni of Durand Area Schools and we are so proud of her accomplishments, her talents and abilities, and her tremendous heart for others.”
Previous Durand Distinguished Alumni award recipients include Michael Watkins, class of 1995; Thomas Fuja, class of 1977; Pam Corwin, class of 1964; Morris Dingman, class of 1957; Marjorie Smith, class of 1941; Roger Baker, class of 1975; Julie Morin, class of 1967; and John Yankee, class of 1974.