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Monday, June 30, 2008

Kuolt Dead at 80

The regional airline industry is mourning the loss of one of its greatest characters – Milt Kuolt, founder of Horizon Airlines, who died June 20 in a Seattle hospital. Kuolt earned his own chapter in the recently published Character & Characters The Spirit of Alaska Airlines, the latest airline biography by Bob Serling. Related Story
“In all his 80 years, never entered a room quietly,” wrote the Seattle Post Intelligencer in its obit of the dynamic individualist who could be at once intimidating and warm. “He'd throw open the door, step in wearing cowboy boots and a duster coat, and howl his signature greeting: ‘Yo!’ That was his thing. 'Yo.' He'd just yell it, no matter where he was," said longtime friend Bill Peare, who was also a vice president at Horizon. "In a meeting, at a party, on the golf course. He was a character, for sure."
Kuolt, who had a career at Boeing before starting Thousand Trails campgrounds in the early 1970s, “was known for his formidable work ethic, his sense of humor and his unflappable allegiance to all of his employees, regardless of their rank.” He was as at home helping behind the counter or slinging bags as he was in the board room, according to Dee Dee Maul, one of Horizon’s founding team members, who spoke with the PI. She also remembered Kuolt delivering boxes of doughnuts to flight crews at 4 am before their first flights.
"Milt didn't care if you were a baggage handler or in the boardroom,” said Bill Endicott, who worked at Thousand Trails and Horizon, and later wrote Remember the Magic: The Story of Horizon Air. “He was concerned about everybody on his team,"
It was a tribute to Kuolt that his successor, John Kelly, made it a point not to change the colorful culture of the regional airline. Even so, Kelly brought modernization, efficiency and fiscal discipline, which Kuolt, himself, said was needed.
“My strategy was to keep the airline entrepreneurial, while implementing new systems and procedures that were simple, yet efficient,” Kelly told Serling for the Alaska biography. “He was eager,” wrote Serling, “to assure everyone at Horizon that while he was no ‘Uncle Miltie,’ he was a stand-up guy who admired their airline.”
Years later, current Horizon CEO Jeff Pinneo, asked Kelly to write a column honoring the airline’s 25th anniversary which turning into a “love letter to the scrappy little company,” according to Serling.
Kuolt is survived by seven children: Milton Kuolt III, Suzanne Kuolt and Sandra Kuolt, all of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Ronald Kuolt, of Switzerland; Randolph Kuolt, of Kent; Maria Kuolt Ottolino, of Burien; and Jamie Milagro Kuolt, 17, with whom he lived; and 22 grandchildren.
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