By Hank Murphy
Wayne Collins, a longtime Mineola businessman, civic leader, Rotarian and pilot who made countless contributions to Mineola and Wood County during his long and productive life, died Sunday at his home in Mineola. He was 94.
The lifelong Mineolan, who most recently served as grand marshal during December’s Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade, was known for spearheading numerous civic initiatives, as well his love for flying, scouting and Rotary.
“Always in his heart, it was what was best for the city of Mineola. He will be sorely missed, he really will,” said Mercy Rushing, Mineola’s city manager.
Greg Hollen, president of the local Rotary Club, said “He was extraordinary, he was selfless, he was inspiring.”
Collins grew up in an entrepreneurial family. The Collins family began owning businesses in Mineola in 1922 and later opened the city’s first dry cleaning business. In 1930, the Collins family began selling men’s clothing. After serving in World War II, Wayne joined the business full-time in 1948. They would eventually expand into women’s fashions, and throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and the first part of the 90s, Collins had a retail presence in Mineola. He also had stores in Athens and Tyler.
After retiring from the retail business, Collins turned his attention to the Wood County Airport Board, which he helped found. His position at the airport fit nicely with one of passions in life – flying airplanes. Like he did so often through his life, he parlayed his infatuation with flight into serving others. He participated in Angel Flights, providing transportation to families in need of medical treatment. He introduced young people to flying through the Young Eagle program, and Collins delivered two single-engine planes to medical missionaries in Africa for Wings of Hope. Into his 90s, Collins continued to fly airplanes. In 2017,his contributions to Wood County Airport were recognized as it was renamed Wood County Airport Collins Field.
He worked tirelessly to improve the airport, said Rushing. “When no one else was there, he was there,” she said.
Collins was the first recipient of the Texas Aviator of the Year Award, which is a special award presented by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division (AVN) at their annual conference.
“He also began an effort many years ago to build an airport in Wood County,” said AVN Director David Fulton. “It is a fine airport and would not be there today had it not been for Wayne Collins. He also was a great supporter of TxDOT Aviation. He was a great guy who had a long, productive life.”
Collins did two stints as president of the Mineola Chamber of Commerce and was a fixture on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Through his position with the chamber, he was catalyst in reviving downtown Mineola through his work in making Mineola a Texas Main Street City, according to Rushing.
She described him as smart and “a wealth of information” who never bragged about himself and always acted in the best interests of Mineola. He was a solutions-oriented man and served as a mentor to her, said Rushing.
Collins also enjoyed a lifelong association with the Boy Scouts.
“There are two things you learn early in scouting. It’s all about teamwork and somebody’s got your back. You also learn leadership and those things stay with you the rest of your life,” Collins said in January of last year after being honored for his lifelong commitment to scouting.
He also was committed to the Mineola Rotary Club, for which he served for more than 70 years. His father was an original founder, said current Rotary President Greg Hollen.
“He was the rarest of civic volunteers,” said Hollen, “He was here every week and attended every event.”
Collins even stood in the cold ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, Hollen recalled.
“People like me came to Rotary because of Wayne,” he said.
“One of the measures of Wayne is that he really never took credit” for his accomplishments. “He was selfless that way. He was just such and inspiring guy.”
Collins was preceded in death by his wife, Frances. He is survived by his children, Craig, Corey, Cristle, and Clay; 10 grandchildren; as well as several nieces and nephews.
This article reprinted with permission from The Wood County News