Date: August 11, 1979
Location: Oakland, CA
By: Bill Eaton
Newspaper: Oakland Tribune
Oakland – Jerry Roquemore waited at the airport for the wind to change, and with it his life.
No more commuting, no more corporate jobs, no more home in the suburbs.
He’s gone to do God’s work in the sky, 6,000 miles out in the Central Pacific, turning his back to the wind and to the commonplace.
“I’ve been getting ready for this for a long time,” he said as he stood beside a red and white airplane at the airport’s North Field this week.
“There’s no security in it, but there’s more to life than security.”
He was waiting for a shift in the Pacific coast high pressure system to bring him a tail-wind to Honolulu.
By today he ought to have reached the Caroline Islands, to stay.
At age 45, Roquemore is a physical education teacher who became a private pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and finally a different kind of guy.
He was teaching at an orphanage in Inglewood five years ago when “the idea of service to people took hold of me, and the rest of this just followed.”
He was already a private pilot and in 1974 he came to the Eastbay to learn the trade of airframe-and-powerplant mechanic, living in Hayward and working here at World Airways.
Now he will put all his skill and good intentions to work for Pacific Missionary Aviation, a small airline that serves the American missionaries scattered through the Carolines and the Marshall Islands, flying mercy missions and air searches, and carrying passengers and supplies, in five small twin-engine airplanes.
The red and white Beech D-18S is the latest addition to the airline founded five years ago by the Rev. Edmund Kalau, who is its president. The 23-year-old airplane has flown 3,200 hours and was donated a year ago to Wings of Hope, the St. Louis, Mo. organization that aids missionary groups all over the world. It was purchased for PMA with $15,000 raised by the Rev. Wayne Adams and his congregation at Cypress Community Church at Monterey.
Hamilton Aviation at Tucson modified the Beech to PMA standards with long-range navigational radios, an eight-foot extension of the nose for carrying an extra 800 pounds of cargo, and convenient escape hatches if the Beech has to be ditched in the sea. At Oakland, Brent Aviation rigged the auxiliary fuel tanks inside the passenger cabin, adding 479 gallons of gasoline to the Beech’s normal 362 gallons so it could stay aloft 18 hours at a stretch at 170 miles an hour, during the ferry flight via Honolulu and Guam to Yap Island.
Roquemore went as co-pilot, learning the business along the way from PMA Chief Pilot Maurice Pickard, a native of Minnesota who lives on Yap with his wife and three teen-age sons.
Roquemore’s wife, Barbara, and daughter D’aun, 16, will remain in Hayward while D’aun finishes her senior year at Tennyson High School. The nerve to take such a leap came easily to Barbara Roquemore who is a parachutist and was a national champion in 1969 and a world champion in 1970.
“She’s backed me all the way,” Roquemore said.
Both pilots say religion is at the root of their choice of this way of life, but don’t amplify that beyond Pickard’s remark that “we’re a non-denominational airline.”
Pickard finds it rewarding in its own way.
“we’re not building up any equity at all,” he says, “but we’re showing God’s love to people.
“Reverend Kalau started PMA because he saw sick people dying on the way to hospitals in small, slow boats. We’ve changed that.”
Pickard said PMA does commercial passenger and cargo flying among the islands to pay for its missionary work and its search missions.
“The natives get into their outboard motor boats and go right out to sea, without any tools to repair the engine. We find them. They paint their boats blue, but we still find them,” he said, smiling.
CAPTION: Jerry Roquemore and Maurice Pickard are off to the far Pacific in a long-nosed Beech