Ropers Share Will’s Passion for Flying

The annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In will be held Sunday, August 18 at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch.

By: Pat Reeder | Category: Recreation/Leisure | Issue: August 2013

Will Rogers and Wiley Post (Pilot Joe Bacon and  Will look-alike Lester Lurk) will land on the grass strip adjacent to Will’s birthplace northeast of Oologah on Sunday, August 18,  during the annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In.

Will Rogers and Wiley Post (Pilot Joe Bacon and Will look-alike Lester Lurk) will land on the grass strip adjacent to Will’s birthplace northeast of Oologah on Sunday, August 18, during the annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In.

Joe Bacon, Martha Swartz and Tom Egbert are new-found friends with a common bond. They are fans of Will Rogers; all are Will Rogers Memorial Museum Ropers (docents). And they love flying. They are looking ahead to Sunday, August 18, and the Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In. They will land on the 2,000-foot grass strip adjacent to Will’s birthplace home and on the ranch his father settled in the 1800s.
    The grass strip might sound imposing to some, but to these three it is a good landing. ‘It’s a good grass strip, very smooth,” said Bacon. “It’s so rewarding, landing in the grass.”
    Egbert, who earned his pilot’s license at 17, said he is a “grass field pilot. I love it. Flying around, I learned to fly off grass.”
    “Grass is so forgiving,” said Martha, who landed on grass strips often when flying with her late ­husband.
    They enjoy the experience of offering spectators the opportunity to look at their planes, fellowship with other pilots and pay tribute to Will and Wiley on the anniversary of their August 15, 1935 death in an Alaska plane crash.
    Each year on the Sunday nearest August 15, the Fly-In at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch marks the anniversary of Will and Wiley’s death in a 1935 plane crash in Alaska.
    Will was lured by the possibility of seeing Siberia from the air and flew to Alaska with Wiley Post, who was intending to explore a trans-Atlanic air route to Russia.
    Bacon and Will look-alike Lester Lurk of St. Genevieve, Mo., will make a popular return to the Fly-In as Will  and Wiley, landing about 10 a.m.
    Will Rogers Ropers, volunteers at Will Rogers Memorial Museum, share a passion for Will Rogers’ ­history and the Claremore museum dedicated in his memory. Five of the almost 50 trained docents also share his love of flying.
    The three active flying Ropers, introduced to Will and the volunteer program through the Fly-In, will join other pilots for the annual event.
    Egbert the newest docent of the five, has been at the Fly-In since the event started more than two decades ago.
    Bacon, from Pryor, has been coming almost as long, and Martha Swartz from the Owasso/Collinsville area, went to a Fly-In about three years ago, hoping to volunteer — and was talked into joining the next Roper training class.
    Nonagenarian Jean McCreery, one of the last trained WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), is often in the Museum workroom sorting and filing photos. Bob Sperry, who flew with the Army Air Corps, later the Air Force, is a Roper greeting tourists.
    Egbert and Ron Lessley, another Claremore pilot, have flown the fly-over at Will Rogers Memorial Museum on August 15, the date of Will’s death and the time when a wreath is being placed at the Rogers’ family tomb.
    The 2012 Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In was a record success in numbers — planes landing and spectators watching.
    The Fly-In at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch has outgrown the former designated parking space. New parking will be opened up for this year’s event, Sunday, August 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    The Fly-In has grown from a small number of planes with pilots showcasing their planes and sharing stories with each other and spectators, to an event which last year drew more than 100 planes and several thousand spectators.
    Visitors can bring their own lawn chair and sit on the grass watching planes land. They are
welcomed onto the field for a ­­­
close-up of planes and visit with pilots.
    Additional entertainment on the grounds will be Cherokee Storyteller Robert Lewis, inflatables for children, antique and classic car show, and tours of the 1875 ranch house to see the room where Will was born Nov. 4, 1879, and tours of the era-correct Amish-built barn.
    Spectators will have an opportunity to vote for Peoples Choice car and plane.
    Tim Jarrett will return as Fly-In coordinator with Civil Air Patrol helping park planes.
    Ross Adkins and Tony Isler will be on the microphone identifying planes and pilots as they arrive.
    Concessions will be available and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum Store will have a booth.
    Will Rogers Downs Cherokee Nation Business, for the second consecutive year, has joined Will Rogers Memorial Museum and Will Rogers Memorial Foundation as the Fly-in presenting sponsor.

For more information, contact

Will Rogers Memorial Museums

(918) 341-0719

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Will Rogers Memorial Museum

For more information, contact:

Will Rogers Memorial Museum

(918) 341-0719
1720 W. Will Rogers Blvd. | Claremore, OK 74017
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