We wish to honor our past members who have moved on in life who have left an aviation legacy.
These women were great contributors to aviation and to the Alaska chapter.
Pearl Laska Chamberlain (1909 - 2012)
Lelia Pearl Bragg Laska Chamberlain, age 103, took her last flight on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 2012, at Richland Place nursing home in Nashville, Tenn. The former Fairbanks resident was born Lelia Pearl Bragg, on April 29, 1909, in Chestnut Mountain, Summers County, W.Va. She was the last survivor of eight children born at home to John W. and Lanie C. Bragg.
She is survived by her son, Nashville lawyer/college professor Lewis L. Laska.
Pearl was a pioneer aviatrix and educator. She learned to fly in a Kinner Fleet bi-plane in 1933, and held a pilot's certificate until she was 97.
Prior to World War II, the Federal Government established the Civilian Flight Training Program; a back-door method to train pilots for military service. Because of its name, it had to allow participation of women and black men, both generally thought incapable of learning to fly in that era. Pearl was given the black students to instruct and each one she taught received his wings.
Pearl's regular occupation was as a public school teacher from the age of 17 until her retirement in 1972. She was a W.A.S.P - Women Airforce Service Pilot - trainee during the war and was honorably discharged.
She also served as a cryptologist at the Pentagon where she received the first message from Guadalcanal.
In 1945, following her dream to be a full-time pilot, Pearl moved to Nome, and worked as a flight instructor and bush pilot. The next year she became the first woman to solo a single-engine airplane - a 1939 Piper J4 - up the Alaska Highway. The FAA recognized her achievements as a pioneer Alaska aviator in 2006.
Scorning the belief that Alaska Natives were unable to learn flying, she taught many, including Holger Jorgensen, who became the first Native hired as a pilot by a scheduled air line.
In 1946, Pearl married Lewis Lincoln Laska, a merchant and fur dealer in McGrath. Their son was born the next year. Lew, from a pioneer family, died four months later at age 50. Pearl operated her husband's store and parka factory for another four years.
She returned to school teaching in Homer and then in Fairbanks, while flight instructing on the side. Her ground-based hobby was sewing fur parkas, kuspuks and dolls.
After several decades of summer school work, Pearl received an undergraduate degree from the University of Alaska in 1955.
She received a master's degree from Miami University of Ohio in 1959, and her thesis was a history of civilian aviation in Alaska. A sabbatical leave at George Peabody College, Nashville - now a part of Vanderbilt University - in 1963-64 qualified her as the first special education teacher in Fairbanks.
The proud owner of a 1947 model Cessna 140, and, later a Cessna 150, she flew these planes to the Lower 48 on numerous occasions. She flew several times in the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race, also known as the 'Powder Puff Derby.' In later life, she married a fellow school teacher, Ed Chamberlain, and they lived in California until his death in 1987.
Thereafter, she drove her pickup to Fairbanks where she lived on her own, until she came to Nashville in 2007 to live with her son.
Gracious and even-tempered, Pearl allowed no nonsense when it came to flying, but asserted that every hour spent in the air gave a person an extra day on earth.
A life member of The Ninety-Nines Inc., "the International Organization of Women Pilots," she did not follow the cult of Amelia Earhart, 10 years her senior, whom she met but did not know personally.
"She got lost," was Pearl's final assessment of "AE," whom she recognized as an important pathfinder in women's aviation. The wearing of slacks was Amelia's greatest contribution to women, insisted Pearl, who said it was just as easy to fly in a skirt as well.
Pearl insisted that Jacqueline Cochran, a few years older than she, and Jerri Cobb, much younger, were the best women pilots of the era.
In addition to her son, Pearl is survived by daughter- in-law, Nancy Laska, and granddaughter, Jennava Laska, of Los Angeles.
Condolences may be sent to 901 Church St., Nashville, Tenn. 37203.
At Pearl's request, no services will be held. Her family gratefully acknowledges the tender care offered by the staff of Richland Place and Alive Hospice. Special thanks go to Lorenda Patterson and Kathleen Harding for the personal care they offered Pearl in the last five years as she lived in an apartment at her son's law office.
Her family asks that any donations in her memory be made to the Baptist church of one's choice or the National W.A.S.P. Museum at P.O. Box 456, Sweetwater, Texas 79556.
Virginia 'Ginny' Hyatt (1918 - 2010)
Virginia Ruth "Ginny" Brown Hyatt, 86, passed away to New Horizons on Monday, November 8, 2010. Ginny, an Alaskan since 1965, was a well-known pilot and advocate for aviation flight safety throughout the state. Decades of work to educate pilots and improve flight safety in Alaska is her legacy. Through her work as a pilot, Ginny became good friends with many Alaskan aviators throughout the state. Her quick wit and dry sense of humor will be deeply missed by her family and dear friends.
Born June 15, 1924, in Terre Haute, Indiana, Ginny began her flying career early. She took her first flying lesson at age 16 and obtained her pilot's license in 1943. She worked several jobs in her young life including a position as a secretary for the Civil Aeronautics Administration, a precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration.
She married John "Bud” Hyatt in 1949 and his career with the Navy took her and their three sons to several states and countries around the world, including Germany, Antigua of the British West Indies, Louisiana, Virginia and finally back to Indiana where she spent several years raising the boys on their farm before her husband retired.
In 1965, the family moved from Indiana to Annette Island, Alaska. Here, her husband worked with the FAA and, Ginny worked for the Coast Guard PX and as manager of a two-lane bowling alley housed in a Quonset hut. The family moved to Bethel in 1969, where they were partners in a bush-plane leasing business and Bud continued his second career with the FAA. Ginny resumed her flying and started her career with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1974, Ginny took a position with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, where she lived out the remainder of her life. For the last 25 years she lived in her beloved condo on Lake Hood, where the sound of airplanes taking off and landing was her sound track.
In her long career in Alaska's aviation field, she worked in the aviation and safety departments of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was later Secretary and Board Member of the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation. In her work at the Foundation, Ginny co-hosted "Hangar Flying," a weekly public broadcast television program devoted to aviation in Alaska, with friend Tom Wardleigh, for over a decade.
Her work with the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation began after her retirement from U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. She worked formally for the safety foundation until retirement just a few years ago. She continued to be involved informally with the group, and a scholarship in her name is now awarded annually. Her membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association since 1945 and the International 99s since 1948 is a testament to her lifelong devotion to the industry and joy of flying.
Ginny is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Chris Hyatt, of Anchorage; son and daughter-in-law, Gordon and Ana Hyatt, of North Carolina; son and daughter-in-law, John and Barbie Hyatt, of Palmer; five grandchildren, Tom Jr. and Tim Hyatt, of Washington State, Denali Hyatt of North Carolina, and Erin Marlowe and Haley Pursell, of Oregon; two great-grandchildren, Winter Hyatt, of Washington, and Nora Marlowe, of Oregon; and sister, Waneeta Trinkle of Indiana. She is preceded in death by her parents, Homer and Lovey Brown.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Virginia Hyatt Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation are encouraged.
MARGO COOK (1918 - 2010)
Charter member of the Alaska Chapter 99s, World War II pilot and longtime Anchorage resident Margaret Anne Cook flew on to New Horizons Sept. 18, 2010, at the age of 92, after a life that embraced friends, family and adventure in equal measure. Margo died at home, surrounded by family and friends.
Margo was born June 23, 1918, in San Antonio, Texas, to Dr. Ernest Dale Cook and Julia Yost Cook. Her family moved to the Los Angeles area in 1925. An adventurous girl that knew her own mind in high school, Margo refused to take home economics, preferring to take shop where she made a surf board then taught herself to surf.
After graduating from Occidental College in 1939, she began her teaching career. Always up for challenges, she gave up teaching to begin learning to fly as soon as the Women's Air Service Pilots (WASPs) was organized to help in the war effort. An unfortunate ear injury suffered while playing baseball during training forced her to leave the WASPs; recovering she joined Stinson Aircraft Corp. as a test pilot. Her fiancé, Lt. John Hutchinson, was killed during World War II and Margo never married. After the war, Margo continued flying for Stinson and also did stunt flying for movies. Her favorite part of flying was flying inverted! When she was a stunt flyer in Hollywood, she insisted on equal pay, the same as the men received. One day on a test flight while working for Stinson, she landed an L-5 at an unfamiliar field. Since she was flying a military aircraft, she had to wait for clearance to take off again, but not before Stinson receive a call and confirmed that “Cookie” Cook was indeed authorized to fly the L-5. When she returned to her base, the crew met her with a sign saying “Property of Stinson Aircraft. If found, please return to Wayne , Michigan .” Margo came to Alaska in 1953 to work as a teacher and then as counselor at Anchorage high schools until her retirement in 1982. She also taught at Alaska Pacific University. And she continued flying. In 1954 Margo was instrumental in forming the Alaska Chapter of The Ninety-Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots, which she was active in until her demise. She was also active in the WASPs, the Pioneers of Alaska, the Retired Teachers Association, the Salvation Army, APU President's Forum, PEO Chapter K, First Presbyterian Church and the Alaska Republican Party.
She is survived by her nieces, her adopted sister, Leah Hoffman; and a host of friends and pilot friends, all of whom will miss Margo's indomitable spirit, sense of adventure, and fun.
JANET OXFORD (1942 - 2009)
A truly warm woman, a warm soul,
an artist, and an involved Ninety-Nine and a friend. Janet has only taken flight, she will live forever in the hearts of those she touched.
Janet was born August 8, 1942 in Albany, California. Her mother later married Herb Rold, who often took Janet flying as a little girl. Janet moved to Alaska in 1976 with her husband and three children, settling in Chugiak.
Janet was nearing her 39th birthday when she decided to learn to fly. She took lessons at Birchwood
Airport, near Peters Creek.In her third week of training, she began doing touch and go landings. “All of a sudden the joy of it came. I soloed
August 8, 1981, and subsequently received my private license, I continued with lessons, obtaining my
commercial and instrument ratings. Then I bought a Cessna 152 with a girlfriend, who was also a pilot. We
paid off the loan in a year.”
Janet mentioned in an interview that flying influenced her
architectural design work. She explained that flying over the
landscape provides her with the “lay of the land, the best
views, and if it's a hillside home, how to work with the
terrain. I can see in all directions from an airplane, and design a home with sunlight on the shoulders.”
Janet became a member
of the Alaska Chapter 99s
in 1981, and for the next 25 years, continued to design logos for the group. In 1993, she designed
an airplane flying out of a gold pan for a 99s Northwest Section Meeting
in Fairbanks. In 2002 the group used her logo for the Northwest Section
Meeting in Anchorage. She also designed the logo for the 2008
International Conference held in Anchorage. Janet proudly kept a
collection of t-shirts and sweatshirts displaying her aviation artwork. In addition to artwork and piloting, Janet enjoyed adventure and challenge. She was a scuba diver, equestrian and world traveler.
Janet battled cancer for over 15 years.
She was a truly warm woman, a warm soul,
an artist, and an involved Ninety-Nine and a friend. Janet has only taken flight, she will live forever in the hearts of those she touched. To say
that her dauntless spirit and cheerful attitude in times of adversity will be missed is surely
an understatement of great proportions.
DECEMA KIMBALL ANDRESEN (1907 - 2002)
Decema, a charter member of the Alaska Chapter of the 99’s, was born in Seward, Alaska. She came to the tent city that was Anchorage when she was nine years old. Her parents had purchased property in the first townsite auction in the summer of 1915.
Kimball’s Dry Goods, built on that property, was the oldest continuously operated business in Anchorage until the time of Decema’s death in 2002 at age 95. She had inherited the business upon the death of her mother in 1958. She used to commute by plane from the valley to Anchorage.
Decema saw Anchorge grow from a tent city to a modern city of over 250,000 people. An avid outdoors woman, Decema combined her two loves, flying and hunting.
Ruth Martin Jefford (1914 - 2007)
The Iowa native began flying when she was only 17 years old. She made her first solo flight in 1937 in Lincoln, NE, then married her flight instructor Jim Hurst. The couple moved to Anchorage, Alaska, in 1941 so Hurst could work for the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration. During World War II, Jefford volunteered with the Red Cross Motor Corps, helping to cover all the lights in Anchorage to avoid bombing raids by the enemy.
Jefford spent the next 60 years in the air. She was the first woman licensed flight instructor in Anchorage in 1944 teaching students at Merrill Field. and the first female commercial air taxi pilot in the state. Jefford was a charter member of the Alaska chapter of the Ninety-Nines (International Organization of Women Pilots), a charter pilot for Valley Air Transport and started the International Air Taxi Service at Anchorage International Airport
For more than two decades, she delivered mail and supplies each week to the tiny community of Skwentna, Alaska for Skwenta Air Mail, sub-contracted schedule for Wien Airlines from 1961 to 1985. Jefford made the 140-mile trip in her Cessna 206, and took on charter and personal flights in between each visit. She and Hurst divorced in the early 1960s. Ruth loved boating (power and sail) and skippered a 24 ft. power boat from Seattle via Inside Passage to Haines, AK 1971. Ruth remarried a decade later, this time to Jack Jefford, the chief pilot for the FAA in Alaska. Together they opened Valley Air Transport. Jack died in 1979.
With over 10,000 hours of flying time, Jefford made her last solo flight in 1996. Ten years later, she received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, an honor created by the FAA to honor pilots who have flown safely for at least 50 years.
Jefford's other passion was music. A violinist since the age of 9, she attended The Chicago Conservatory of Music and studied with teachers in New York and Paris. She co-founded the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra in 1946, and served as its concertmaster for nearly 30 years. In her spare time, Jefford enjoyed sailing her boat, the Arjay, and riding motorcycles.
Ellen Paneok (1959 - 2008)
Alaskan Aviation Pioneer, noted artist and author, skrimshander, public speaker, community activist/volunteer, and friend.
The first Native Alaskan woman bush pilot, and one of only 37 pilots featured in the “Women and Flight” exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, Ellen went on to fly over 15,000 hours. Featured in numerous books on women and aviation, including Bush Pilots of Alaska and Women Pilots of Alaska, she was also referenced in a number of other publications for her unique experience and knowledge of high arctic flying. She was honored to be one of the few pilots authorized to fly the vintage aircraft owned by the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
She spent five years working for the FAA as an Operations Inspector, and then for the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation as the Statewide Aviation Safety Coordinator. During the years she did not hold a medical herself she spent countless hours inspiring the youth of Anchorage and village communities to look to the sky and pursue their own dreams.
Ellen created ivory scrimshaw that hailed from her strong Inupiaq tribal traditions as well as her interest in the changing world of today. She started scrimshaw at age 17. Her grandfather, John Evak Sr., was influential in her learning more about the art. She has exhibited her work at numerous Alaska Federation of Natives conventions and arts and crafts shows. Her work is represented at art and antique galleries in Anchorage and Haines, Alaska, and in Minnesota and Maine. In addition, Ellen’s scrimshaw is in numerous private collections. Ellen took the time to pass on her knowledge by demonstrating her scrimshaw and giving inspirational talks to students. Ellen utilized her talent for art to supplement her flying lessons in the mid 70s in order to gain her licenses and experience for flying commercially in Alaska’s “Bush.”
Helen Stoddard, Alaska Chapter Charter Member
A 99 from the Texas Chapter had a dream in 1952 and that was to organize an Alaska Chapter of 99s. Learning she would need 8 members to start a chapter, Helen invited interested women to meet with her in Stoddard’s Aero Service building at Merrill Field in Anchorage. She saw the culmination of this dream on January 19, 1954 when the Alaska Chapter of Ninety-Nines received its charter. For her efforts in forming the Alaska Chapter, Helen received the Gold Pan Award and is the only member to date to receive this honor in the chapter.
A pilot with 4000 plus hours logged, Helen has ferried 17 planes over the Alaska Highway. She developed a wing tent for sleeping beneath the wing of an aircraft – an item that came in handy during her many long trips. During World War II, while her husband, Wes, taught cadets to fly, Helen acted as dispatcher. All members of her immediate family are pilots with her son and daughter soloing at ages 9 and 10 – this was pre WW2. A movie was made about the children’s flying and they are quite possibly the youngest pilots to solo a plane.
LOIS Marie KNAPP (Wise), Alaska Chapter Charter Member
Lois started flying in June of 1943, became a licensed pilot a year later and was delivering planes for a Piper Aircraft Co. by September of 1944, and all because she became tired of bookkeeping. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Lois has logged over 1000 hours and holds ASES and ASEL ratings.
Her most exciting flight was ferrying J-3s to Panama in July 1946, and she’d like to make this same trip again. The following year she ferried a plane to Alaska, liked what she saw and stayed, working at Merrill Field for a year, later joining the U.S. Weather Bureau. Often called “shorty” because of her diminutive 4 ft. 9 ½ inch height, Lois says she prefers to fly Piper PA-11s because “they fit.”
A retired secretary bookkeeper, Lois now sells real estate in her spare time. In addition to flying, she is interested in politics, sewing and the Wasilla Community Club. She has held many offices in the Alaska Chapter, and remained active from the moment the chapter was chartered in 1954 until her passing to new horizons.
Laurine Yvonne Nielsen Alaska Chapter Charter Member
Helen D. Snyder Alaska Chapter Charter Member
Betty Tipps Loomis Alaska Chapter Charter Member