by Brian Manning
WALSENBURG — Not all volunteers have boots on the ground; some have wings in the air. This is the case with Rick Loeffler and his partner Gail Terry. They are both pilots who fly their airplane when needed.
They have assisted neighbors to find cattle, searched for missing people and helped to locate fires in inaccessible areas.
Gail Terry is originally from the Gardner area, and from childhood, she always wanted to fly. She tried to join the Civil Air Patrol in the 1950s but was denied because she was a woman. Not deterred, she later took flying lessons and says that she raised babies while she learned how to fly. She had three daughters and now has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
After raising her family in California, she returned to Gardner. She wanted to help her community, so Terry joined the volunteer fire department in Gardner and decided to become involved in EMS. She recently took a first responder’s class through the fire department and passed a national certification test. Now she can administer first aid to injured persons while they wait for the ambulance from Walsenburg.
Loeffler volunteered for the Air Force and served from the end of World War II through the Korean and Vietnam wars where he flew fighter jets. He has three children and six grandchildren. Loeffler retired in 1972 after 30 years of service.
He had always liked Colorado so when he retired, he bought property outside Gardner where he built a runway with three other neighbors for their private use.
Loeffler is 83 and Terry is 70. Both had spouses who passed away, so now they live and work to-gether and both are always willing to help neighbors
When there was a recent fire on Greenhorn Mountain, the fire chief called them and asked if they could fly over the area to find the exact location and the best way to access the fire. They found the fire but were unable to communicate with the dispatcher or the Forest Service. So they took a GPS reading and landed and phoned in the information. According to the fire chief, this information allowed them to stop the fire before it spread. Volunteers from Walsenburg and La Veta also responded to assist.
Terry says that volunteers come and go which is why a new supply is always needed. For example, very few young people join the fire department because they move out of the area to find jobs.
Loeffler and Terry are volunteers with wings who donate their time and money to help their neighbors from the air.