Welcome to the Flying Cross Ranch Promise Fund tribute page in memory of Keith Cross (who I will refer to as Dad from here forward).
Dad was born January 25, 1935 in Mitchell, South Dakota. He grew up on a farm with his parents, three sisters and one brother. He married the love of his life, Shirley Ann Thurman, December 21, 1952, yes, in today’s life they would be considered very young. He joined the U.S. Air Force where he served as Airman First Class until1963. He was stationed outside of London, England (where I was born July 26, 1958) flying missions in and out of the Congo. After his discharge we settled in Vacaville, CA (where my brother Brian was born June 25, 1962) we then relocated to Davis, CA where he worked for Pacific Gas and Electric before opening A-1 Auto Body Shop in 1967 where he worked until his retirement in 1990 at the young age of 55.
As kids my Brother and I grew up living in the country on the property that Dad lovingly named The Flying Cross Ranch. We had an awesome childhood with horses, dogs, cats, mini-bikes and the like…..along with these wonderful things came the responsibility and chores that go along with all of them. We learned to respect the things we were given and work hard for those things that we wanted. Dad and Mom taught us to be leaders, hard workers, and too be kind to all.
After retirement, Dad took the opportunity to continue to pursue his passion for aviation. Dad was a licensed private pilot for many years and as a family we took many trips from California to South Dakota in the Mooney, a single engine, four seat plane to visit family. The flight seemed somewhat long but it sure beat the two day drives we took prior to flying! He was an active member of the West Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department (as a commissioner), Davis Host Lions Club and the Woodland Elks Lodge #1299.
In 1991, Dad purchased a 1943 Beech 18 UC-45E that had been sitting at the Compton airport in Southern California and had not been off the ground in many years. It was an anxious yet exciting flight getting it back to northern California. He had begun the restoration project when he was diagnosed with ALS, I’ll never forget the day he told us, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1999. Dad continued to work on many project tirelessly despite ALS until we said he needed to slow down and let others help him finish his dream project of restoring the Beech.
The restoration of the Beech was an absolute amazing journey. Friends and family came from all over to work on the project as they had the time. Everyone was so awesome all the while knowing that Dad was on a timeline. He was not one to ask for help, he was always doing for others so this was a difficult reality for him to face. The people who participated took charge but did things how he wanted them done, work days even had there fun and humorous times (I even got to make the window coverings). When he was no longer able to climb in and out of the plane and was confined to his wheelchair, my brother and nephew would take the video camera into the cockpit so Dad could watch what they were doing on a TV set up for viewing outside the plane, he still had his hands on the project that way. In 2005 the Beech was flown to the AirVenture at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, WI (sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association-EAA) for the one week air show. EAA members and aviation enthusiasts totaling more than 500,000 from more than 60 countries attend this event. The Beech won the Antique Bronze Lindy Award (transport category) for best restoration needless to say everyone was beyond proud. Although Dad never realized his dream of actually piloting the plane, he was able to be a passenger on several short flights prior to losing his fight against ALS on September 5, 2005.
We all think of him daily and miss him beyond imagine and I honestly believe that he keeps an eye out on us each and every day. Sometimes when things happen for whatever reason one of us will remark “that was a Keith Cross special”.
I have never met a person so brave and so kind,
Never have I seen such a positive mind.
He never gives up and never gets down,
Even though it’s hard for him to get around.
He used to hold me in his strong, healthy arms,
He used to mow lawns on his nicely kept farm.
He was able to walk and able to dress,
Until diagnosed with ALS.
It affects most of your muscles, but doesn’t give you pain,
It destroys all the nerves that send signals from the brain.
He cannot do the things that he always used to do,
He can’t open the door or even ties his shoes.
This disease has surely affected his life,
He’s now bathed and cared for by Shirley Ann, his wife.
He can’t wash his hair or even try to shave,
He is amazingly courageous and incredibly brave.
One thing he wants is his dream to come true,
To restore an old airplane, that had seen World War II.
His friends and relatives all work on his dream,
We all get together and form a large team.
For twelve or so years we have worked day and night,
So my grandpa can see “Shirley Ann” in flight.
It won’t be much longer before she goes to the sky,
My Grandfather’s dream will finally fly.
I have learned a lot over the past few years,
Through frustration and laughter and millions of tears.
I have learned that life’s lessons can sometimes be tough,
My grandpa has shown me to never give up
Written by Tyler Cross (grandson to ALS patient Keith Cross)
Age 15, 2002