Bill Gibbs - A Living Legend

Bill Gibbs

Bill Gibbs is a living legend at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The 99 year old La Jolla resident has lived through almost the entire history of aviation during his lifetime in San Diego and is still active in supporting a scholarship program which bears his name.

Gibbs began his love affair with aviation in 1930 by taking flying lessons in an OX5 powered Waco 9 from his boss, Carlyle Madson, who operated a service station located near what is now Petco Park. He saved his money, worked at odd jobs, and eventually established a landing strip on Kearney Mesa which is now known as Montgomery Field. As was typical of many young aviators of the day, Gibbs supplemented his income by flying passengers on “barnstorming” flights around San Diego and giving flying lessons as soon as he had his limited commercial license with 50 hours of flight time. One of his students, James Dalby, later went on to fly DC-3's in China during World War II, became president and general manager of Gibbs Aircraft Service Center at Montgomery Field, and Chairman of the Board of the Museum.

The Bill Gibbs Scholarship Endowment Fund began operation in 1989 with “seed money” from Bill Gibbs. His intent was to encourage other sources of income to augment the fund and ultimately produce a prestigious four year scholarship for a student to pursue a collegiate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (all of which relate to aviation or aerospace). That year three $500 scholarships were awarded to students who were admitted to Caltech, MIT and UC Berkeley.

Over a 21 year span, Gibbs has personally donated $189,500 which has allowed 86 scholars to attend universities all over the country and has produced some amazing results. In 1997, local resident Heidi Buck received a scholarship to attend UC San Diego. She now works for SPAWAR in San Diego and was named one of the “Outstanding Scientists and Engineers in 2009" by the Secretary of Defense.  She also is a member of the Museum Scholarship Committee.

As a result of Gibbs' leadership and example, the Museum now administers four separate endowments. In 1997, the Convair Alumni Association transferred its $200,000 fund to be jointly administered.  Since then, 95 scholarships have been awarded to heirs of Convair employees in an aggregate amount of $311,600 to be used for various college degrees.

One of the most memorable Convair Scholarships was awarded in 2007 to local resident Catherine Ploneda, who impressed the Committee with her determination to obtain a degree in chemical engineering. She is finishing her studies at California Polytechnic at Pomona this year and is a member of the Society of Women Engineers on campus.

In 2000, Museum Board member Ken Rearwin established the Rearwin Endowment Scholarship Fund to support students who might make more of a practical contribution to aviation rather than a purely academic pursuit.  During a ten year span, 22 students have received scholarships totaling $52,900.

Members of the Museum and other interested donors are encouraged to support any of these scholarship funds and/or establish funds of their own by contacting Jim Kidrick, President and CEO of the Museum. Scholarships are available to seniors graduating from San Diego County high schools through a rigorous process which includes an application, essay, and interview.

Bill Gibbs gets the credit and appreciation from all of the scholars and Museum members for starting such a magnificent tradition of philanthropy. His centennial birthday will be celebrated in various locations throughout San Diego, culminating in a party at the Museum on October 9.

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