Monday, January 16, 2012

Goodbye Boeing

Some 35 years ago, I lived in Wichita, Kansas with my spouse due to his job.  We lived there about 4 years, and for this native of New York City, it was a unique experience indeed.  I enjoyed Wichita in many ways (although this was during the era of the BTK Strangler, as we called him then) and in some ways was sorry to leave.

After we moved to Binghamton, we saw IBM (the "king" of industry when we came here) go downhill.  We saw many people we knew laid off, scrambling to find jobs in other industries.  Many never enjoyed the prosperity of their IBM jobs ever again.  Their lives turned out totally different (and sometimes better, I have to admit). 

Wichita called itself the Air Capital of the World for good reason.  There were three major aircraft companies located in Wichita at the time we lived there:  Cessna, Beechcraft, and the largest one - Boeing.  These companies were to Wichita as Endicott-Johnson Shoes, and later, IBM, were to the Binghamton, NY area.  People strove to work for the aircraft companies.  At my job in Wichita (not aircraft related), almost every spouse worked for an aircraft company. The aviation industry ruled this city of about 280,000.

No, the Wichita I knew was not a dusty cowtown inhabited by tumbleweeds.  It had a wonderful River Festival every May.  It had a lot of green trees, a wonderful bicycle path along the Arkansas River, the Mid-America All Indian Center,  a historical Wicihta recreation called Cowtown, and was a good place to raise a family. (At one point in time, I lived on the edge of downtown, and was able to walk to work for one of the few times in my life.)  But the summers could be wicked hot, and after the summer of 1980, it was time for a change.

Times do change.  And now Boeing is leaving Wichita for good.

When I read about this in early January, it brought back a lot of memories.  One may wonder why I would care about a city that I have not set foot in for almost 30 years and....well, I knew some of their employees socially.  I wonder how many of those people were there at the end.  I was shocked to find out that only about 2100 people were still working for Boeing Wichita plant.  My memory may be vague, but I think there were some 15,000. people working there when I lived in Wichita.

If your grandparents fought in World War II, it is possible they flew in an aircraft made in Wichita.  Your parents may have flown in a passenger plane made in Wichita.

It's the American story, repeated so many times....and it does make me sad.

I don't know if I will ever have the chance to visit Wichita again.  If I will be a very different place. In more ways than one.

1 comment:

  1. I'm from Kansas (grew up in Topeka) and I was sad to see Boeing leaving Wichita for the jobs and lives it helped support. An era of history is gone, but will definitely be remembered.


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