MINDEN -- When 15-year-old Kellie Dudley was a wide-eyed sophomore at Douglas High School in 1978, senior Steve Wass took her under his wing. He gave her half his locker and drove her around town in his orange Corvette.
"I was kind of like his little buddy. He was so handsome and I thought I was so special to share a locker with him," she said.
Today, she repays the favor when she and her husband, Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Lance Modispacher, co-host a celebration of Wass's life at Hutt Aviation Hangar No. 1 at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Wass, 42, of Gardnerville, piloted the air tanker that crashed Monday at the Cannon wildfire in Walker, Calif. He and two crew members were killed.
"I am just so thankful I was part of his life," Kellie Modispacher said. "He was the sweetest man, quiet and confident."
The Modispachers stopped by the Minden airport on Sunday to watch the tankers take off and land from fighting the fire.
"We pulled up and Steve was standing there talking to some people," she said. "He was in his regular preflight uniform -- Hawaiian shirt and shorts -- and we didn't want to interrupt him. We just watched him talk. He had so much expression in his hands and he was laughing. We left without talking to him. Then we lost him the next day. I feel very blessed to have seen him for a few minutes Sunday."
The celebration at Hutt Aviation begins at 11 a.m. and is open to the community. Pastor Pete Nelson will officiate and refreshments will be served.
"We want everyone to come -- friends, family, firefighters, people who want to pay their respects," Lance Modispacher said. "Kellie and I and Mark Alley have been working with the family. We'll have plenty of food and we want to see everybody. A lot of pilots will be there and people will have a chance to talk about Steve."
Kellie Modispacher said participants could expect an informal jam session by Wass's fellow musicians. He played drums and electric and acoustic guitar.
"He was an accomplished musician," she said. "He so loved playing drums."
Lance Modispacher called Wass a fallen war hero.
"He worked as hard as he could to be a great pilot. I consider him no less than a fighter pilot. He fought a war against nature. He was a neat guy who did such a dangerous job."
Wass, co-pilot Craig Labare, 36, of Loomis, Calif., and crew member Michael Davis, 59, of Bakersfield, will be also honored at a ceremony today at 9 a.m. at Keith Roman Field at Douglas High School sponsored by the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden. That event also is open to the public.
IF YOU GO
What: Memorial service for air tanker crash victims
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Keith Roman field, Douglas High School, intersection of highways 88 and 395, Minden
What: Steve Wass celebration of life
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Hutt Aviation Hangar, No. 1 Airport Road, Minden
Info: Kellie and Lance Modispacher, 720-5577