Suddenly, the name Edith Whatley McKanna is big news again.
It was decades ago when McKanna, who grew up in the Scurry County community of Fluvanna, became the first woman in Texas to get a pilot’s license and to own her own plane. Her name was big again when she became a member of the Ninety-Nines, an orga- nization of women pilots that formed in 1929 with Amelia Earhart as the first president. And, following service with
the Civil Air Patrol during World War II, McKanna again made a name for herself when she returned to Scurry County and organized the Imperial Oil Company. A 1949 Time magazine article referred to her as the “Lady in the Oil Patch.”
Now, McKanna’s name is news again, this time permanently. In October, the general aviation terminal at Winston Field in Snyder, seat of Scurry County, was renamed for McKanna. It became only the second air terminal in the Lone Star State to bear the name of a woman—after Barbara Jordan Terminal at Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport, named for the pathbreaking Congresswoman.
The same month, Snyder renamed its long-running White Buffalo Days festi- val “Edith W. McKanna Celebration.”
“Hopefully, her legacy holds on and becomes alive again,” said Kirsta Koennecke, first assistant in the Scurry County Auditor’s Office, who suggest- ed honoring McKanna. “It’s kind of a buried piece of history nobody knows about.”
But now McKanna’s name will be affixed to the airport terminal in permanent lettering, said Scurry County Judge Dan Hicks, who participated in the October ceremony. Not only will the new signage honor McKanna, it might spark renewed interest in her history.
McKanna was born July 19, 1899, in McLennan County and moved with her family as a child to Scurry County. She died March 26, 1986, and is buried in the Fluvanna Cemetery.
Drew Bullard, chair of the Scurry County Historical Commission and a lifetime resident of the county, recalled hearing McKanna’s name when he was growing up and later visiting McKanna’s ranch house when she would host an open house.
“She was just a person I knew,” Bullard said, not realizing her historical significance until later.
McKanna was heavily involved in the community, serving on the historical commission and numerous boards, including the board of the Scurry County Museum, where she now is fea- tured in a section on the county’s oil history.
“One of the images of her is in front of her plane,” said Nicole DeGuzman, the museum’s executive director.
Interviews with “Scurryly Speaking,” a collection of newsletters about Scurry County history, tell of McKanna’s first flight in 1929 and then her decision to learn to fly herself. In time she logged over 3,000 flying hours, staying active as a pilot until 1968. She recalled in those interviews the hazards and excitement of the nation’s early days of flying. “We flew from dead reckoning from a road map in the days before navigation,” she told the interviewers.
McKanna was educated at Columbia University and was a member of Ikebana International, which promotes the Japanese art of flower arranging. McKanna paid for a Japanese garden in front of the county museum in tribute to that art form.
Coincidentally, McKanna isn’t the only West Texan in the Ninety-Nines organization for women pilots. Vera Dawn Walker, also a member, is buried in Cope Cemetery in Taylor County south of Abilene. Walker also was a pilot in the original National Women’s Air Derby in 1929. The race, featuring all women pilots, was dubbed the Powder Puff Derby by pundit Will Rogers; it’s a tradition that continues in the modern era as the Air Race Classic, a 2,400- mile, four-day annual event. Though the race has never yet made a stop at Snyder’s airfield, perhaps now it will.
Loretta is a freelance writer in Abilene.