I’m proud as a peacock of colleague Ashley Bowen Cook. The Wichita Aero Club has named her chair of its board of directors – making her the first woman to hold that prestigious post. She’s earned the title through many years of serving on the board. Heading its trophy selection and gala committees. Volunteering at its annual golf tournament. Bringing in keynote speakers such as Shaesta Waiz, the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo in a single-engine aircraft. Developing a must-attend, women-leaders-in-aviation panel. Ashley was the first woman to sit on the Wichita Aero Club executive committee and to serve as vice chair. Every new position of Ashley’s seems to become a first.

She follows in some impressive footsteps. Previous chairmen (in order) include John O’Leary, Airbus Americas Engineering vice president and general manager; Jeffrey Peier, Klenda Austerman, managing member; Patrick Tuttle, then ADR CEO and now Delta Dental of Kansas COO; and Robert Stangarone, then Cessna Aircraft Company vice president of corporate communications and now New England Air Museum chairman and president. Ashley’s tenure officially begins on January 29 at the club’s must-attend annual gala.

Women Have Always Been Part of Our Aviation Heritage

I’m proud of the Aero Club, too. While aviation has long been thought of as men’s domain, in 2010, the club named Velma Wallace the very first recipient of the Wichita Aero Club Trophy. So, it has a history of seeing past gender and focusing on merit. For those of you who only know Wallace as the widow of longtime Cessna leader Dwane Wallace, she was a leading benefactor behind Exploration Place and one of general aviation’s earliest female pilots, with both single- and multi-engine ratings. She spoke softly, but her words carried weight. And made things happen.

And, okay, I’ll say it. I’m proud of the Air Capital, as well. Olive Ann Beech, The First Lady of Aviation, was the first woman to head a Fortune 500 company. She navigated Beech Aircraft through its WWII-fueled expansion after her husband, Walter, was hospitalized, and following his death in 1950 served as its president until 1968 and chair till 1982. Both she and Walter received aviation’s highest honors, including induction into the Aviation Hall of Fame. Of course, it’s her spirit I admire most. She commanded respect, kept meetings short and went straight to the source with “See me” notes when she saw issues.

Pride in the Air Capital reaches back even further to the very dawn of aviation. Our book, Wichita: Where Aviation Took Wing, brims with stories of fearless barnstormers such as Ruth Garver and Bertha “Birdie” Horchem. The daring Ruth would walk out onto the wing and jump from her Wichita-built Laird Swallow. Birdie held the women’s altitude record and could do up to 25 consecutive loops as well as a 2,000-foot tailspin. Both died young when their equipment failed them (a parachute in Ruth’s case and a crumpled aircraft wing in Birdie’s). Their trailblazing continues to blow my mind – and make me wish I had known these women.

Congratulations, Ashley, on your rise, and thank you for your dedication to elevating the industry, the club and our agency.

Celebrate With Us Come help us honor trophy recipient Ron Ryan of Ryan International Airlines at the 12th Wichita Aero Club gala. It’s 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 29 at the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton near Eisenhower National Airport. Haven’t secured your tickets for the gala yet? You still can. RSVP here.

Check out the Wichita Business Journal’s article about Ashley’s new role as Wichita Aero Club chair in its Jan. 20 issue.