The skies above the ranchlands of South Dakota seem boundless, and when you spend time in those wide open rural spaces, it isn’t hard to imagine a boy growing up there going through daily chores on a ranch imagining what it would be like to spread wings and soar in all that endless blue. Jerry Dale grew up on a ranch just southeast of the Badlands near Martin, South Dakota, and he didn’t waste any time getting aloft.
In 1979, he earned his private pilot’s license in Martin and soon after moved to Rapid City where he acquired his multi–engine, instrument, and commercial certification. By 1982, Jerry had his first twin–engine fixed–wing aircraft, formed Dale Aviation, Inc. and began flying charter and air ambulance.
In the years that followed, Jerry racked up hours in the air and spent more than a few dreaming of what might lie beyond his horizons. In 1983, he leased his aircraft to Westworld Community Health Care and flew for Medical Air Rescue, a subsidiary of Westworld. In 1987, Westworld filed for bankruptcy. Jerry saw an opportunity to really take flight, so he purchased Medical Air Rescue from bankruptcy court and was soon flying solo.
Over the next 18 years, Jerry’s business grew slowly and he was able to gradually acquire additional aircraft, personnel, and contracts that took him far from his roots in rural South Dakota. His air ambulance service reached beyond the local and regional hospitals and even beyond Milwaukee and Minneapolis to reach from one coast to the other as he transported patients to and from facilities all around the country.
While Jerry’s business had grown from its initial eight employees—including pilots, a mechanic, administrative people and medical personnel—to fifteen full–time personnel, Jerry’s dream had also grown. By the turn of the century, he was imagining a larger operation—a vision that included doubling his inventory of planes and hiring the personnel they would require.
Jerry knew that to take his business to the next level, he would need a business partner, the right business partner—an institution willing to back his track record of success and his vision for growth. “When you’re dealing with aircraft that cost in excess of a million dollars and the high cost of maintenance, you have to have a bank to help you grow.”
But Jerry was continually frustrated by the fact that local banks just didn’t understand his big idea. “Other banks in Rapid City did not understand the aviation industry and were reluctant to lend money,” Jerry explained. Even though Dale Aviation had proven itself a viable enterprise with two decades in business and a steady record of modest growth, finding a partner was going to be difficult.
Jerry realized that hoping for a financial backer with specialized understanding of his niche industry was too much to ask for. What he needed was a backer willing to share the potential risks and rewards of his venture without the luxury of such knowledge. What he needed was someone willing to trust his experience and expertise.
When Jerry talked to Rick Messer of Pioneer Bank & Trust in Rapid City, he came away feeling like Rick was the person he’d been looking for, a man he could trust who was willing to trust him. A partnership soon flourished. “With the help of Pioneer Bank &r Trust, we were able to increase our fleet to six airplanes, and we’ve grown the company from fifteen employees to fifty.” In just five short years, Dale Aviation has more than tripled in size and become the preferred regional provider of Air Ambulance services for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. “Pioneer Bank has been an amazing partner through the growth of this company,” Jerry says. “They really got my big idea.”