OKLAHOMA CITY —
Glover Edward “Gus” Bagby – April 28, 1920—February 7, 2014.
G.E. “Gus” Bagby, 93, of McAlester, Okla., died Friday, February 7, in the home of his good friend and companion Billie Bohreer, also of McAlester.
While his long life was mostly blessed with excellent health, he was hospitalized in early August with difficulties associated with aging. Bagby became a resident of Walnut Grove Living Center of McAlester for the next five months before being hospitalized again. He entered hospice care a short time ago.
Bagby was born in Gravette (Benton County), Ark., the only child of Earl Edward and Edith Glover Bagby, who raised chickens on their farm near Cave Springs. His mother encouraged a natural inquisitiveness, buying him subscriptions to science and mechanical magazines during the Great Depression. He was interested in anything and everything mechanical and technical, and especially if it involved motion. Airplanes had an especial appeal: at age seven he closely followed the flight of the Spririt of St. Louis and Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic.
He was the proud applicant and recipient of the first amateur radio (ham radio) license west of the Mississippi with the call sign, W5SMR, and built his own radio equipment.
In his late teens, he became very interested in motorcycles and owned a succession of different models in various conditions. His eighth motorcycle was assembled mostly out of parts of the prior seven. Bagby was an avid motorcycle racer into his 20s.
With great mechanical abilities and a desire to know how things work, he entered the University of Arkansas in 1936, studying mechanical and electrical engineering at the Fayetteville campus. He worked various odd jobs, installing wiring and fixtures in homes during rural electrification, repaired and operated movie projectors at a theatre and worked as an auto mechanic’s assistant, who didn’t like the name Glover. It was he who christened him “Gus,” a nickname that stuck. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering—the first member of his extended family to graduate from college—and went to work in 1941 for a brief time with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio.
A job offer and his motorcycle took him to Birmingham, Ala., and a position at Republic Steel Co. There, he found not only a job, but the love of his life, Martha Jean Putman. They married in June, 1942, and shortly after Bagby entered the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
He had hopes of becoming a pilot but imperfect vision and an irregular heartbeat disqualified him from becoming a flyer. Consequently, he stayed stateside during the war, as a lieutenant in charge of training aircraft mechanics. A notable event during his wartime experience was ordering the entire crew to abandon a malfunctioning airplane over eastern New Mexico. As flight engineer, he was the last man off, and while he descended via a very small parachute, he watched the plane mostly glide into what could have been a relatively safe landing.
Bagby broke his hip upon landing and was dragged several hundred yards through cactus before he was able to detach his ‘chute. He spent a night alone in the Guadalupe Mountains near Carlsbad before he could be rescued. Surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation period restored him to full health, though the hip would trouble him for the rest of his life.
While stationed in New Mexico a short time later, Bagby saw the morning glow on the western horizon in 1945 when the first atomic bomb was tested at Trinity Site near Carrizozo, N.M.
He and Martha would live in Atlanta, Georgia, near Birmingham, El Paso, Tex., Clovis, N.M., Chickasha, Okla., Cave Springs, and Fayetteville, Ark. Their first child, Gail, was born in 1943. Two sisters, Merry and Vickie, would follow in 1949 and 1952, and only son, Mark arrived in 1956.
Following the war, Bagby returned to work in Alabama before returning to the family farm in Arkansas for a time. He would soon go to work for the University of Arkansas as engineer in charge of its physical plant, overseeing operations of electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems. He also taught a few courses in engineering and physics.
His interest in all things that moved continued through the years. Bagby built a ski boat as a gift for his wife, as well as a wooden sailboat he piloted around Lake Eufaula, and a wood and canvas canoe with his son. One year for Christmas, he built a Barney Oldfield-inspired plywood and gasoline engine go-kart for his children. Bagby continued his military service in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, achieving the rank of major. He was later active in operations of the Civil Air Patrol, which allowed him to indulge his love of aircraft and flying. He started a hobby business, Antique Aero, and restored old airplanes, including several Luscombe L-5s, planes used for training pilots early in World War II, and later built a Pietenpol Aircamper—a wood and canvas airplane with a Model A Ford engine he salvaged from an old car–from scratch.
He left the University of Arkansas very early in the 1960s for a job with a private engineering firm before taking a position as a special weapons engineer at the Naval Ammunition Depot near McAlester and moved his family to Oklahoma in 1962. Bagby worked there until he retired in 1980.
In retirement, he continued to work on airplanes, adding radio-controlled model planes and ultralight aircraft to his interests, was an avid auto racing fan and traveled around the country to various historic sites, aircraft festivals and other points of interest.
The Bagby basement and backyard of the family home on West Adams were famous for airplanes, boats and vehicles of various types in varying states of construction or repair. He also built and flew numerous paper kites as well as RC model planes. An inveterate tinkerer, he was famous for refusing to toss away appliances large and small and electronic devices, preferring to repair them, or in some cases, improve them or repurpose them into other devices and machines. Bagby built his own band and table saws from discarded motors and parts. He was curious about numerous topics and a voracious reader on diverse subjects, and eloquent and articulate about many fields of interest. He had no musical training, but had an excellent ear for melodies, and was a world-class whistler, and frequently could be heard whistling "I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman" in a tone that could be heard down the block.
In his 70s, he took flying lessons, soloed and earned his pilot’s license, but didn’t fly again. He did it, he said, to prove to himself that he could do it.
Bagby was heartbroken in 1994 upon Martha’s death after a half century of marriage but found comfort and companionship in his remaining years with Bohreer.
He is preceded in death by his wife of 52 years, Martha, and grandson, Kevin Wayne Wood. Bagby is survived by daughter, Gail Wood, of Wichita Falls, Tex.; daughter, Merry and son-in-law, Mike Duggin, of Heber City, Utah; daughter, Vickie and son-in-law, Michael Cain, of Kerrville, Tex.; and son, Mark and daughter-in-law, Heidi Bagby, of Bakersfield, Calif. He is also survived by six grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.
There are no services planned, as per his request. He will be cremated and his ashes interred at Ft. Gibson National Cemetery. The family requests no flowers, please, but memorials may be made to the charity or cause of the donor’s choice.
His children are grateful to Billie and the extended Bohreer family for their love and support of their father, as well as to his attorney, Elaine Green, of McAlester, and to the staff of Heartland Hospice of McAlester.
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Glover Edward “Gus” Bagby – April 28, 1920—February 7, 2014.
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