- Ellen Gorelick
Oliver Franklin Mefford
Who was Oliver Franklin Mefford, and why does the City of Tulare's Airport and the rare wooden pre-WWII hangar, south of town and east of Highway 99, bear his name? He was a flight instructor at Rankin Aeronautical Academy in Tulare in the 1940s. Mefford was a successful businessman and owned O. F. Mefford and Son Jeep, one of the first jeep dealers in the nation after World War II. He was a pillar of the community. He served as chairman of the Aviation Commission and as a member of the Tulare City Council. In 1991, he was honored by the Tulare Chamber of Commerce as Tulare's Man of the Year. By the way, did I mention that he also liked to jump out of airplanes?
Oliver F. Mefford was born in Stephenville, Texas, on January 25, 1901. He was the eldest of eleven children, and his family farmed in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. He joined the Navy during World War I, and after the war, he worked at the Navy Air Base on Coronado Island. While visiting his family in Colorado, he met his future wife, Grace, and they were married in the Baptist Church in Durango, Colorado, on September 12, 1923. They would raise a son, Charles, and remain happily married for sixty-five years until her death in 1989. In 1937, he purchased a Piper Cub aircraft, and his love of flying began. His brother, Dwight, and he spearheaded an effort to develop an airport south of town, and in 1981, Tulare renamed the Tulare Municipal Airport in his honor.
During the depression, he started a trucking business and used car business. During World War II, he became a flight instructor at Rankin Academy east of Tulare. His flight instructor's uniform and other Rankin Aeronautical Academy memorabilia are prominently displayed in the museum's Manuel Toledo Military History Wing in the Robert and Geraldine Soults Hall. In 1950, he became a developer, built houses, farmed and ran his car dealership. He continued to serve his community by serving on the Tulare Safety Council, the Tulare Airport Commission, and the Tulare District Cemetery Board.
In 1979, at the age of 78, he ran a successful campaign to serve as a member of the Tulare City Council. Although he never sought recognition, his love and financial support for the City of Tulare and its charitable organizations are well known. His passion for flying and adventure continued throughout his adult life. At 92 years of age, he was the oldest man in the world to skydive, with CNN News featuring a story about him. Tulereans will long remember Oliver F. Mefford's many contributions to the City of Tulare. The Tom Hennion Archives Center of the Tulare Historical Museum preserves his life story for future generations.