Bebes Skyhawk

Block Number: 46

“Bebe’s Skyhawk”

By Ginger Todd

Bebe Ragaz, wife of Dr. F.J. Ragaz, first heard of the McDowell Quilt Trail through fellow church choir member Jill Lucas. She then began noticing the quilt blocks pictured in the McDowell News and knew she wanted one. As a child, she had watched her grandmother quilt, and decided she would like an exact replica of the double wedding ring quilt, which she had inherited from her grandmother. Not finding a pattern to duplicate her grandmother’s, she browsed through the Encyclopedia of Block Patterns and came across an array of aircraft designs that immediately drew her attention.

The quilt block Mrs. Ragaz chose to represent the Skyhawk that was once owned by the Ragaz family is from the 1929 Oklahoma Farmer’s Stockman block pattern. The 4x4 block consists of four shades of blue highlighted with white. The aircraft, which is centered in the block, is a dark royal blue, the four corners a medium shade, with the side panels being a light blue. The white is located just behind the wings with the propeller being black. Mrs. Ragaz chose these particular shades to match the original color scheme on their Skyhawk, which consisted of both light and dark blue with white detail. The colors could represent the various shades of sky and white clouds, as well. The block is facing east and may be viewed from the corner of New and Madison Streets. BeBe‘s parting words after installation were: “Oh, I love it! I love it! I love it!”

Shiftlet Field, Marion’s single-grass landing strip, was founded circa 1952 and is home base for the 352nd Fighter Squadron, formed in 2007. In the early 1960’s Bebe had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shiftlet, who encouraged her to learn to fly. She liked the idea, and arrangements were made for a flight instructor to come up from Hickory once a week to give her lessons. She pursued the lessons and earned her private pilot’s license in a Cessna 150 single engine aircraft.

Dr. Ragaz and two of their three daughters also “caught the bug” and learned to fly. In time, the family replaced the small two-seater aircraft with a Cessna Skyhawk, which they flew for over twenty years. The Skyhawk is a high fixed-wing single engine aircraft, first introduced in 1955, and is still in production today. It has been manufactured more than any other aircraft.

Bebe flew for thirty years and participated in six Powder Puff Derbies, two of which were in their 145 horsepower Skyhawk. She has the distinctive honor of having flown twice in the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR). The race spanned over five days, entailing nine stops, with strict rules of flight, including VFR (visual flight rules – daylight flying only). It began in Palm Springs, California and ended in Tampa, Florida (2,915.70 statute miles). The first AWTAR race was in 1947.

In July, 1977, Bebe flew in the final Commemorative Flight, following the original route, and came in tenth out of over 100 fliers. After thirty years, the end of AWTAR, which had been open to all licensed women pilots, had arrived. This was due to rising costs, diminished sponsorships, and new levels of air traffic congestion. Other factors of its demise included the rise of women’s desires to break into male fields, prompting a male pilot to sue so as to be allowed to fly in the race. The lawsuit drained the funds of those involved, thus 1977 saw the last race. While reviewing Bebe’s scrapbook and certificates, it was evident that she meant it when she said that “flying has been close to my heart and life, and one I took great pleasure in”.

On Friday, July 16th, “Bebe’s Skyhawk,” constructed and painted by Mike Lucas, Kathy Brendle and Martha McCauley, was installed at 156 North Garden Street by Mr. Lucas, with the assistance of Richard Turner. Jill Lucas presented a framed Certificate of Authenticity to Mrs. Ragaz.

The Ragaz home displaying the block was built in 1897 by Bebe’s great uncle, and has been passed down through the family for 113 years, with all intention of continuing that tradition. A rose bush planted in the early 1920’s still flourishes on the grounds.

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