Flying Doctor saves lives
When Marion J. Renner of Goodland made house calls, he took his doctor’s bag and his pilot’s license. From the 1930s to 1960, “The Flying Doctor” served the remote areas of northwest Kansas, sometimes flying 50 miles each day to check on a heart patient or up to 300 miles for an emergency at an isolated ranch. For many northwest Kansans in the mid-20th century, Dr. Renner’s flying house calls were often the difference between life and death.
“An airplane is a pair of seven-league boots to a country doctor,” Renner told University of Kansas Graduate Magazine. His airplane aided him in difficult calls, including flying above 15 miles of flooded roads to deliver several babies or landing between snow drifts to fly a desperate patient to the hospital.
Dr. Renner begins his medical career
Renner graduated first in his University of Kansas School of Medicine. (His roommate Ben Hibbs later edited The Saturday Evening Post.) Renner served in the United States Army Medical Corps in World War I. He wanted to fly in the Army Air Corps, but could not pass the physical. After the war ended, he completed internships and residencies. He collapsed with a severe case of pneumonia. When he regained consciousness, he learned that his condition was regarded as terminal.
He turned down professorships in Cleveland, Ohio, and Kansas City, Kan. He visited his brother who ran a harvest crew. His brother encouraged him to stay in Western Kansas and he did. He joined Dr. E.J. Beckner’s practice at 1008 Main, now home of Goodland Churches Thrift Shop. He married Brewster’s Gertrude Horney Nov. 28, 1928.
Despite the Army’s decision to bar Renner from flying, he persisted. He earned his pilot’s license in 1932. He owned 14 different airplanes at various times. He refused no patient from inability to pay. And some paid in food, livestock — and even moonshine. But he refused to accept chickens. If patients needed to pay with a chicken, they needed money more than Renner did. Those people could pay later.
Starting the airport
When the Works Progress Administration decided to build the airport’s barrel hangar, the City of Goodland refused to buy the 80 acres necessary. When Renner said he’d buy the necessary land himself, he shamed the City into buying the land. Renner cared for the field himself until the City hired an airport manager. When the runways were dirt, Renner hooked a harrow to his car and groomed the runways. Fittingly, the airfield was named for him.
In 1939, he flew the first airmail letters out of Goodland to Norton and Salina.
Starting the glider school
During World War II, May 1942, someone from Washington, D.C., called Renner. That person asked him to find seven flat pieces of land for glider training. Within 24 hours, he had found six of them and had the landowners sign government leases. Ten days later, 400 pilots arrived for 60 days’ training in glider piloting. They practiced dead stick landings in “cow pastures“.
The Flying Doctor’s fame
“The Flying Doctor” was featured in Look magazine’s Nov. 25, 1947, issue. Goodland Municipal Airport was renamed Renner Field in 1966. After 47 years of service, Renner retired in 1960. He died July 8, 1978, at his home in Goodland. He was featured at a High Plains Museum exhibit from Dec. 15, 2012, to Jan. 27, 2013.
A display about Renner hangs on the north wall of the terminal’s waiting area, 602 Renner Field Road. Open Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Butterfly Cafe is just past the Renner display. Enjoy their pies and homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. If flying into Renner Field, call ahead on Unicom frequency 122.95. Standing at the terminal entrance is a non-working model of “America’s First Patented Helicopter“. See a full-size working replica at High Plains Museum. A historic hangar stands at the entrance to the Renner Field terminal’s parking lot. “History of the Opera House“ mural is painted on the site of his former office.by