By Bonita Gooch
The Community The American Gospel song, ”Stand” was one of Rip Gooch’s favorite, probably because it reflected the philosophy of this strong community servant, business and family man, who gave his all in every area of his life.
The song asks, “what do you give when you’ve given your all?”
The answer? Just stand
“You just stand, watch the lord see you through
Yes, after you’ve done all you can
You just stand”
Rip Gooch stood strong for 98 years, but yesterday, his stand ended.
As a pilot, Rip took his final flight.
You may know Rip from the many aspects of his life and there were many. He impacted so many people in so many ways.
When he arrived in Wichita, KS from Tennessee in the early 1950s, to work at Boeing Aircraft. He, his wife Augusta and daughter Camellia arrived in Wichita during a big boom time. The City was growing so fast you could hardly find a place to stay. They ended up in small basement apartment and before long were operating the Water Street Cafe.
At a time when Black employees were relegated to the assembly line, Rip became one of Boeing’s first Black quality inspectors, but Rip’s real desire was to fly airplanes. Rip was a novelty, a rare Black airplane pilot. He had learned to fly using his GI Bill. Yes, he was also a World War II veteran.
If Rip would have been born a decade or two later, he would have been an airline pilot, but during those days, that wasn’t an option open to “Negroes.” So, Rip used his flying skills to make extra money andin the process, made strong friendships and connections beyond the color line, many of which would last a lifetime.
Before long, Rip was teaching some of the city’s leading executives how to fly. He became one of three certified Federal Aviation Administration examiners who was authorized to license new airplane pilots (think driver’s license examiner). Over the years he would examine and license hundreds of new pilots.
His aviation industry connections led him to open Aero Services in 1959. It was an aviation flight school, airplane sells, rental, and service business on Rawdon Field i just north of what was then Beech Aircraft. There, he and his team continued to teach future pilots, operated as a Mooney Aircraft dealer, had the company’s pilots working in a number of cities across the country. After several ups and downs in the economy, Rip finally closed what had been a rather successful business after 15 years.
After those days, he went on to become a top selling car seller and private pilot for Walt Lesline, a Wichita Buick dealer. There’s was another close friendship that lasted a lifetime, with the couples taking numerous vacations together. Rip was the first Black salesman ever hired by a new care dealer in Wichita. Over the year’s people continued to come up to Rip to remind them that they had bought a Buick from him.
It was during his time at Walt Lesline Buick that Rip was solicited to begin his career as an elected official. He always insisted he wasn’t a politician; he never liked those guys. He was an “elected official” who served the community, which he did with a thorough commitment to his constituents, first as a Wichita City Council member before being elected as a State senator. He served admirably in the senate from 1993 – 2004. He retired from the Senate at age 80. At the time, he was the oldest member of the Kansas legislature.
He left because as he said, he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” with the frustrations of the Kansas Senate. Rip worked hard to get things done for his constituents but was frustrated by the partisan politics.
After his retirement, he continued to work to help members of the community, wrote his autobiography “Black Horizons: “One aviator’s experience in the Post-Tuskegee Era” and spent time on tour speaking and selling his book across the country.
Rip Gooch was a great story teller, and his book is full of great stories about his life. He’s reprinted and sold out the book several times. There is also a documentary of his life “From the Bottoms” that has aired on several public television stations across the country.
But at the center of Rip Gooch’s life always was his family. He sadly lost his only son Kerry, who died in an airplane crash, while Rip was serving on the City Council. He lost his wife of 49 years during his last term in the Senate. He experienced another unexpected loss with the death of his daughter Camellia in 2010. That left Rip and his daughter Bonita as a dynamic, close and supportive duo.
How ever adding joy and friendship to Rip’s life was his official but unofficial member added to the family Ed Andrews. Ed, who was stationed at McConnell Air Force base in the 80s, connected with Rip and Augusta around his love of aviation and family. Ed, his wife Rose and their daughter Roseshell will always remain an active and loving part of the Gooch family.
Rip loved his grandchildren immensely: Dorian (Camellia’s daughter) and her husband Phillip Sanders and their two children Olivia and Phil, Jr., Kerry, jr. and his wife Karmen, Lauren Cheeseborough (Bonita’s daughter) and Rosehell (Ed’s daughter).
The family enjoys holidays and vacations together and regular phone calls to Pops, as the grand kids called him and to Papa, the name he’s preferred to by his great grand kids. They were regular callers, visitors and a joy to Rip until the end.
After and extended illness, Rip Gooch’s stand ended.
“Stand through the rain
Through the hurt
Yeah, through the pain
Don’t you bow, and don’t you bend
Don’t give up, no, don’t give in
Just be strong.”
For Rip Gooch, God has stepped in.
Rip’s Memorial Service
Sat., Dec. 18, 2 to 5 p.m.
Wichita Aviation Museum, 3350 George Washington Blvd.
Come early to tour the museum and see the Rip Gooch video. The service begins at 3 p.m.