Obituary: Kenneth L. Bemis


Kenneth L. Bemis

October 21, 1916 to September 21, 2017


Ken Bemis was born in Hermon, Maine, the oldest of three siblings.

His strong New England work ethic began early, as he had the job of arriving at his elementary school early each morning to fill with wood and light the classroom stove for the day.  That work ethic persisted all his life, as did his conscientious goal of assisting people and being of use.

He had a life-long love of animals, and thought that he wanted to become a veterinarian until his father learned that barnstormer was landing in an open field near Kenduskeag, Maine and decided to take his two young sons for a ride in that airplane. After that aviation was all he could dream of. During Jr. High School, he and a friend worked on learning to maintain the friend’s father’s airplane, spending as much time as possible hanging around it.  Young Ken ordered plans for a pietenpol aircraft from Popular Mechanics, but it was more of a project than he could manage due to the cost of an engine. About six years ago, Ken donated those original plans, in the original self-addressed stamped envelope to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine.

Following High School, Ken came to California for Aviation Mechanic Training School in Venice, CA. His first job was at Howard Hughes well-known “Skunk Works” in Burbank, CA, where he worked graveyard shift while still attending school.  During that time, he saw Amelia Earhart preparing for a flight to Hawaii, and asked if he could take a photograph. She kindly said, “sure”. He was hired by Consolidated Vultee in San Diego, CA after achieving his Airframe and Power Plant Mechanic’s License.

Ken was domiciled in San Diego working as a Flight Engineer on PBYs and a new production aircraft called the B-24. He had many ferry flights taking PBYs to Canada and Bahamas for those members of the British Realm.

When World War broke out in Europe, Ken was assigned to duty as a technical representative for the B-24, which was part of the Lend-Lease Arrangement between Great Britain and the U.S., and was sent to England before the U.S. entered the war.  He was attached to the Royal Air Force in that capacity all during World War II, first serving in England until victory over Europe was declared, and then sent to Australia where the Pacific Phase of that war continued. Never a member of the Military, and in a deferred profession, Ken served the entirety of World War II and in both theatres of war.

When the war ended, Ken returned to San Diego, where aviation mechanics were not in demand to the same degree they had been during the war.  He had a friend during his time overseas who was from Brawley, and was invited to come live with his parents while he looked for a job. He got a job working for the O’Connell Brothers repairing and maintaining their tractors, until something more suitable turned up.

In the meantime, Ken purchased a number of surplus Army Trainer Stearman Aircraft, and in his spare time began to convert them into Duster-Sprayers that could be rented, with a maintenance contract, to local crop dusting companies which were popping up all over Imperial Valley. That went well, and soon he was hired full-time by the Stoker Company, a new crop dusting outfit, to work in his true profession.

After a while he branched out to renting shop space from the O’Connell Brothers and began his own aircraft maintenance business, employing other A&P mechanics too.

In about 1969, Ken was asked to manage Brawley Airport and remained in that capacity into the 1990’s.  He held an FAA Aircraft Inspection Authorization for 75 years. Ken once said that his calling was to prevent people from harming themselves in defective aircraft, vigilant aircraft maintenance being an important part of that.

Ken passed beyond this life quickly and peacefully at 100 years, 11 months. He was at home, his only child holding his hand. He was preceded in death by his siblings, LeRoy Bemis and Virginia Goss, and his wife of 55 years Isabel.

He is survived by daughter, Roberta; brother, Royce Bemis; nephews, Larry Goss, Glenn Goss, Duane Eversoll, Don Eversoll; nieces, Jane Haney, Jane Thede and Carol Munsinger. He will be thought of often and missed.

Services will be at Frye Chapel and Mortuary in Brawley on Saturday, September 30, at 10am.  The location of the reception to follow that service will be announced at the end of the service. Interment will follow at a later date in Nebraska. Donations to a No-Kill Shelter in his name would be appropriate.