When Ben Bailey passed away on Oct. 29, 2012, Altus lost a talented musician, an expert pilot, a community advocate, an arts sustainer, and a wonderful man. Ben generously shared his love of music and his talent for performing music with our community for almost four decades. He entertained us in roles ranging from playing keyboard for the Main Street Jazz group to singing bass in a barbershop quartet to performing his annual The Organ Plays for Christmas program. Ben spent almost every Sunday on the organ bench at one of our local churches, and, fittingly, his last musical home was St. Pauls Episcopal Church with its magnificent pipe organ. On Oct. 27, his musical friends from far and near presented Celebrating Ben Bailey, a concert tribute to Ben to thank him for the richness he brought to our lives and the nourishment he provided for our souls.
Benjamin Nelson Bailey was born on June 16, 1932 in Carbondale, Pa. to D. Nelson Bailey and Marion Stackhouse Bailey. The following year, his family moved to Salem, Ohio where he grew up and graduated from Salem High School. He graduated from Ohio State University in 1954 with a Bachelors of Music majoring in Pipe Organ. He was a member of Theta Chi fraternity. After graduation he worked in the Organ Factory in Alliance, Ohio until he began his military service.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant through the universitys Reserve Officer Training Course and entered active duty in the United States Air Force in 1955. His career in the Air Force was in the Strategic Air Command as Co-Pilot then Aircraft Commander in B-47s and B-52s. He served with his crew in Thailand and as scheduled in Viet Nam. During his career he was stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base (AFB), Ohio; Bergstrom AFB, Texas; March AFB, California; MACV, Saigon; Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; and Altus Air Force Base. Highlights of his 20-year USAF career include piloting B-47s and B-52s, being awarded both the Bronze Star and the Air Medal, and attaining the rank of Major.
After his retirement from the Air Force, Ben continued to make his home in Altus, and he continued to pursue careers in two of his loves: music and aviation. Ben taught piano for the Hubbard Music Center from 1967 to 1981, served as the organist and bell choir director at First United Methodist Church from 1976 to 2007, and played the pipe organ at St. Pauls Episcopal Church from 2007 to the present. He also instructed aviation courses at Western Oklahoma State College from 1982 to 2000. In 1997 he received a Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Certificate of Designation, Pilot Examiner - Airplane, to examine applicants for Single Engine, Multi Engine, Instrument, in the Oklahoma City Flight Standards District. He worked as a simulator test pilot for Flight Safety Services Corporation from 2000 to 2010. He was a member of Alpha Eta Rho International Aviation Fraternity. In September of this year, Ben was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award which recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for over 50 years. Ben also continued learning. In 1974 he earned a Master of Arts in Business Management from Central Michigan University. He continued to take graduate courses at Oklahoma City University and Oklahoma State University. He completed his most recent course in the fall term of 2011, where he completed a graduate course in organ technology at the University of Oklahoma. Ben was a member of the Lions Club and a recipient of the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award for exemplary service to his club and his community. He was an active member of the Shortgrass Arts and Humanities Council, an officer of the board of directors for the Quart Mountain Music Festival, an annual guest performer for the MacDowell Club of Allied Arts, and a member of the Aldonian Clubs championship spelling bee teams. He was instrumental in securing a holiday performance of Handels Messiah in our community for over thirty years, serving as the accompanist for those performances as well as performances of the Community Chorus. Ben was an ardent supporter of KCCU, our local public radio station. His annual new-member challenge grant helped make classical music and jazz music programming available in our area. He was also a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Organization, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the American Guild of Organists, the Piano Technicians Guild, and the American Theatre Organ Society. Although Ben loved music and aviation, his most passionate love was for his family.
He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Shirlee F. Bailey of the home; three children, Barbara Kristen Bailey Abney and her husband Michael Abney, Eric Nelson Bailey and his wife Teri Bailey, and Gretchen Anne Bailey-Zydiak and her husband Brian; two step-daughters, Dr. Jeanne Ann Freeman King and her husband Dr. Robert King, and Margaret Elaine Freeman Muenchow and her husband Rev. Mark Muenchow; one sister, Nancy Alice Bailey Sundstedt and her husband Oscar Sundstedt; and eight grandchildren, Charlotte Abney, Kevin Abney, Christopher Bailey, Jonathan Bailey, Michael Bailey, Erica Bailey, Per Bailey-Zydiak, and Cameron Bailey-Zydiak. Ryan Copley and his wife Savannah, Anna King, Betsy King, and Emily King.
Ben Baileys legacy will live on with the pilots he trained, the musicians he nurtured, and the hearts he warmed.
Services will be held Saturday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. at St Pauls Episcopal Church, 721 N Thomas St in Altus, with the Rev. Kathleen Murray and the Rev. Mark Muenchow officiating. There will be a reception for friends and family immediately following the service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that friends and family remember Ben with memorial donations to either St. Pauls Episcopal Church of Altus or the Organ Fund at the Altus First United Methodist Church