Jennifer and Vince Santorelly have been pleasantly surprised by airpark living. They spent three decades thinking that they would “one day” move to a fly-in community and finally made the dream a reality in 2022.
“My husband and I came to live here at Cuyler Airfield (FD27) a little over a year ago,” said Jennifer Santorelly. “[My husband] has spent his whole life…restoring World War II airplanes for a living. We met about 30 years ago when we were both working for [aircraft restorer] Kermit Weeks in Miami. I was a receptionist, and he was a mechanic there.
“Basically, from when we first started dating, we always knew that we would live at an airpark. We had been living in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, for a long time, and it was so hard to get our little [Piper] Cub out. Anytime that we wanted to go fly, we had to drive to the airport, push the plane out, then finally go flying.”
There was a more convenient way of enjoying one’s aircraft—living with it. The couple had tried to do just that several times, but the fit wasn’t right in any of the scenarios.
“We had purchased property in different airparks and ended up selling them,” she said. “It just wasn’t right [for us at the time]. We had looked all over Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina for the perfect community for us. And because I’m a sixth-generation Floridian, I did not want to leave the state.”
To Jennifer’s relief, the couple found a suitable community a few hours north of their longtime home where they would not have to leave Florida.
“We found this little airpark up here in north Florida, which is about 1 mile from the Georgia line,” she said. “A house came up for sale, and it was at the time [when] they sold in a matter of seconds. We got on it immediately, bought the house, and then moved up here. We were happy that we took this chance to finally move to an airpark.”
While Santorelly still works, her husband retired before their move to Glen St. Mary. It left them both with the opportunity to enjoy aviation, albeit in a much different capacity.
“What we really wanted in an airport community was the quietness of a grass strip,” she said. “We wanted the ‘Red Barn at Oshkosh’ type of feel. Since we’ve been up here, we’ve started a local EAA chapter, Chapter 1349, with a bunch of our neighbors. Our club is new in the last couple of months and [we] are just getting started on doing events. We hold monthly meetings on the third Saturday of the month.”
The chapter, with Jennifer serving as secretary, consists largely of residents of the northern Florida fly-in community. This airpark has a healthy number of residents, as well as homebuilts and certified single-engine pistons.
“There are about 40 homes at Cuyler Airfield, [which is] quite a few,” she said. “We are very close to Jacksonville, so a lot of the residents here are retired pilots from the Navy. There are all kinds of planes here, too. There is a Pitts, a couple of Luscombes, a Taylorcraft, a couple of 172s, and many more.
“Steve Chase is building a Pietenpol in his hangar. Jeremy Wicker just completed his Pitts. Rod and Susan DePinet own a Cessna 172 that they fly everywhere. Most every weekend they are flying to airports, like Flagler (KFIN) and Fernandina (KFHB), for lunch. My husband has a Clipped Wing Cub that he owns and a project L-4 that he’s building.
“We are really close to a forest. We are out in the woods, and there isn’t a lot around here. But it’s very pretty. I really liked the location, being that it’s a country feeling. So many airparks are built close to other communities that I felt like we would be right on top of them soon. It’s peaceful here, with a really charming look to it. The house we found is really pretty and was exactly what we were looking for.
“And the hangar was big enough. He wouldn’t even look at a house if the hangar wasn’t a minimum of 50 feet by 40 feet. If it was below that, he wouldn’t even consider the house. He refused.”
Santorelly noted that there were surprises about airpark living, a dream the duo had shared for so long. Little would have prepared them for what it was all about.
“[We were taken aback by] how quiet it was,” she said. “We have always lived in subdivisions where you are right on top of your neighbor. Now we almost have an acre and a half lot that is extremely peaceful. It’s also nice to be surrounded by like-minded people. For example, one of the kids [Jacob Miller] down the street just soloed. He grew up here and has now soloed at Cuyler. It is nice to see everyone interacting and talking about something like that. That kind of community feel is special. We haven’t regretted moving here at all.”