Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In offers special experience
OOLOGAH, Okla. – For more than 20 years, the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore has paid homage to Will Rogers and Wiley Post with an annual fly-in at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch.
Rogers, a Cherokee Nation citizen, and Post, a famed aviator, died in a plane crash on Aug. 15, 1935, in Point Barrow, Alaska. Tad Jones, the museum’s executive director, said this year commemorates the 82nd anniversary of their passing.
“His (Rogers) character is what we want to try to keep alive. He was a guy that respected everybody, which I think it’d be great for our entire nation now to show that respect towards others,” he said. “I know Will Rogers, if he was here, he would love it because he was a man that just loved action activities, and this event has just gotten to be huge over the last number of years.”
The event kicked off at 7:30 a.m. Jones said people and planes began arriving as early as 6:45 a.m.
The free event offered more than 100 planes, a car show, Cherokee storytelling, 19th century games for children and the opportunity to tour Rogers’ birthplace home.
The planes landed on an airstrip adjacent to the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch allowing visitors to get an up-close look at them.
“You get to walk around with the planes, so it’s not just looking at them from a distance. But when they land you can walk out among the planes, and sometimes they’ll let you sit in the cockpits,” Jones said.
Rogers’ great-granddaughter, Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, said the event is a great way to continue Rogers’ legacy while helping others learn his story.
“This is what I love the most is seeing these young children out here with a mixture of older generations because that’s who needs to learn about Will Rogers is these up-and-coming children,” she said. “I am just so grateful that people want to continue his legacy, and to bring their families out to something that’s a tradition like this. And what better place than his actual birth home.”
Rogers-Etcheverry said seeing people honor Rogers’ means “everything” to her.
“There’s nothing negative when you talk to people who remember him or have heard about him, it’s always positive,” she said. “He was such a role model to so many people, so that means everything to me.”
Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said the tribe annually contributes to the museum and ranch to ensure they remain “healthy and strong.” This year the CN gave $25,000.
“This is a state of Oklahoma facility, and they are really struggling with their budget,” he said. “It’s important to us as Cherokee people to support this and make sure that it remains healthy and strong.”
For the past three years there has also been a National Day of Remembrance during the fly-in for those who have died in small airplane crashes.
“We have Will and Wiley who died in a small airplane crash, and so we want to honor anyone who has died in a small airplane crash. You hear a tragedy with the big airplanes, but there is a lot of people who have passed away in small airplane crashes,” Jones said. “At 10 o’clock (a.m.) we have a National Day of Remembrance that we put on Facebook all over the country, and we honor those that have died in small airplane crashes. We have a 35 second moment of silence, which is for 1935 when Will Rogers and Wiley Post died.”
For more information, visit www.willrogers.com