Some fathers teach their daughters to ride a bike. Others teach their girls to fish. Clarence Kappes taught his daughter to sew. And he still is teaching.
In the Kenmore Air upholstery shop, the father-daughter duo work side by side. Surrounded by rolls of leather and a chandelier of metal seat frames, Clarence teaches Elizabeth (Kappes) Beedle the art of upholstery.
It is a craft in the truest sense. The interior of each de Havilland Beaver and Otter is handmade. Unlike modern planes that come off a machine-operated assembly line, these birds haven’t been manufactured since the 1960s and 70s. Each seat frame and instrument panel is unique.
Creating the upholstery from scratch is no small feat, but Elizabeth has embraced the challenge.
“I ask a lot of questions. Often I ask the same one multiple times, just to make sure I get things right,” she explained.
Lucky for her, she happens to have a very experienced teacher. Clarence began dabbling in aircraft upholstery in 1998. Originally from Minnesota, he was working as a carpenter at the time and was commissioned to build cabinets for an airplane.
In need of his expertise, Kenmore Air recruited him in November of 2007. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said. The entire Kappes family, including Elizabeth, soon followed.
Prior to the move, Clarence had begun teaching Elizabeth about upholstery. Their first project was refinishing furniture. That was in 2006. Since then, she’s spent her summers helping in the upholstery shop.
And with 10 years of experience under her belt, she has now joined the Kenmore Air crew full time. “I love getting to work with my hands. It can be incredibly challenging and physical work, but seeing the finished product is so fulfilling,” Elizabeth said.
She also loves that working together means more time with her father. “We’ve always had a good relationship,” Elizabeth told me one afternoon as she worked on the seat for a de Havilland Beaver. “Being in the upholstery shop and learning from him lets us spend more time with each other.”
Outside of work, both Clarence and Elizabeth are avid cyclists and canoeing aficionados. “Dad, my husband, and I like to ride together. We’ve even done the STP before,” Elizabeth said.
Over the years, Clarence has accumulated eight canoes. “He has enough room for the entire family, including my sister and her daughter, to be out on the water. It’s really fun,” said Elizabeth as she double-checked the stitching on a new seatback.
Next time you fly with Kenmore, pause for a second. Run your hand over the seat. You might be admiring the craftsmanship of Clarence and his daughter Elizabeth.