Gladys Buroker has reaped great memories from her life of adventure, but she’s also given back to her community.
The 83-year-old Rathdrum resident has taught grown men how to fly and 4-H young boys and girls all about flies. She’s walked on wings and toured the nation on motorcycles. Her recently published book “Wind in My Face” shares those experiences with others.
As a tribute to her many contributions to others, North Idaho Fair officials, Buroker’s friends and her family plan a celebration in her honor Wednesday, Aug. 20 during opening ceremonies at the Fair Plaza. The current fair office, once a hangar at Weeks Airfield, will be named in her honor.
Buroker is a pioneer in local aviation circles. She and her late husband, Herb, opened Buroker-Hicks Flight School at Weeks Field in 1942 where they trained transport pilots for Farragut Naval Base during World War II. The 160-acre field was purchased by the city of Coeur d’Alene during the tenure of Mayor Glindeman, according North Idaho Museum records.
At the time of its purchase in the early ‘20s, the field lay one mile north of the Coeur d’Alene city limits. It was the first municipally owned airport in the United States.
Weeks Field had two runways, 2,700 feet and 3,600 feet, but they saw limited use until 1942 when the Burokers, originally from the West Coast, established their flying school in Coeur d’Alene.
The couple made many improvements in the airport, which at one time was simply an open field with one hangar. When it was clear that the airport could not expand, the facility closed and eventually became site for the fairgrounds.
Herb Buroker died in 1973 shortly after aviation enthusiasts Herb and Clay Henley bought land south of Athol. Gladys continued giving flying lessons at their Henley Aerodrome, now Silverwood. She also flew gliders and planes for parachutists.
She taught her last lesson in 1995. One of her many students was North Idaho Fair Board member Don Johnston, who will be on hand at the ceremony to help honor her.
“She taught me flying lessons in 1946 in a Piper J3,” Johnston recalled. “I have real fond memories associated with her.”
Johnston said he’s excited about the ceremony because the Burokers helped build the hangar being named in her honor. “She was involved in everything,” he added. “She did the whole gamut, and she’s as likeable as anyone you’ll ever run into.”
In addition to flying, Buroker led the Harmony Hustlers 4-H Club for 15 years. The club served youngsters in the Wolf Lodge, Sunnyside and Blue Creek area.
“I always loved working with children,” she said. Her projects included entomology, forestry, junior leadership and sewing.
As a part of ceremony on Aug. 20, friend and fellow aviator Gene Soper is organizing a fly-over at 12:30 p.m. He plans to pilot his Duncan Sport, open cockpit biplane, which he’s owned since 1971. He’ll be joined by a few flying friends.
“I’ve issued a blanket invitation to the Experimental Aircraft Association,” Soper said. That means the fly-over could involve from five to 50 planes.”
Soper met Buroker when he first came to Coeur d’Alene in 1949. Buroker’s family will also be on hand. One daughter, Sally Simundson, is an elementary reading teacher, while her other daughter, Linda Melhoff, works as an air freight manager for Alaska Airlines at Sea-Tac Airport south of Seattle.
Her son, Kelly, who lives in Rathdrum, is assistant plant manager for Columbia Paints in Spokane. After the ceremony, Buroker will sign copies of her book and visit with friends at a gazebo between fair buildings 6 and 7.
When asked about the upcoming ceremony, she admitted having mixed emotions.
“I don’t do well in front of a lot of people,” she said. “I think it’s quite nice to be honored that way … I’ve thought about the many, many airplanes I’ve pushed in and out of that building. There’s lots of memories.”
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