Rogers ranch to commemorate life with fly-in

Sponsored by Cherokee Nation, the Oologah Birthplace Ranch will hold one of the largest fly-in events in Oklahoma to commemorate Will Rogers and his love for aviation.

OOLOGAH -- It has been more than 30 years since the first Will Rogers and Wiley Post fly-in planes landed on a grass strip adjacent to the house where Rogers was born on an Indian Territory ranch. Until last year, when most of the world was shut down by the COVID pandemic, the event was an annual observance that called attention to the love of aviation that the two shared until their untimely deaths on Aug.15, 1935, in an Alaska plane crash.

The fly-in and national day of remembrance will be celebrated Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Oologah Birthplace Ranch and is sponsored by Cherokee Nation. One of the largest fly-in events in Oklahoma, planes will fly over Oologah Lake and land just yards from the Rogers' birthplace -- relocated when the lake was filled -- to special activities in surrounding spaces.

Planes start landing about 7:30 a.m. and because of hot weather are usually airborne by 1:30 p.m. There is ample car parking south of the airstrip.

Rogers was an international spokesman for the new mode of transportation, and Post was a pioneer pilot who flew around the world twice, setting speed records.

A tradition for the past several years will take place at 9:30 a.m. when Rogers (Lester Lurk, a Missouri farmer and Will lookalike) and Post (pilot Tom Egbert) will step from a plane, landing in the center of the field.

The National Day of Remembrance and special ceremony, a tribute to those who have lost their lives in small plane crashes, will be live on the Will Rogers Memorial Museum Facebook page at 9:55 a.m. with the service to begin at 10.

A commemoration lapel pin showing Rogers in a flight jacket has been given to families of more than 30 crash victims. The pin can also be purchased for $5 a piece. To add someone to the list, contact the Will Rogers Memorial at winfo@willrogers.com.

Dale Smith, who wrote "Oklahoma's Will" and produced and directed the musical "Will and the Wind" a few years ago, is planning a reunion of some of the cast. A group of young people from this area traveled cross-county to Will's California ranch a number of years ago, staging the performance on the route. Smith said some of those participants will reunite at the fly-in.

Spectators are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs and watch the landings, walk among the planes and visit pilots, sit in the shade trees on the lawn near the house and listen to Cherokee storyteller Robert Lewis and visit food trucks and a classic car show. Children will be able to play 19th century games and in Kids Zone bouncy houses.

Admission is free; donations are accepted. Visitors are asked to social distance and wear a mask when interacting with vendors. The ranch airstrip is northeast of Oologah at 9501 E. 380 Road, call 918-341-0719 or 918-906-7258 for more information.

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