Marion â€œBabeâ€ Weyant of Lansing, Michigan loved airplanes. She kept scrapbooks about aviation, wrote a school report in 1932 recommending it as a career, and from her home west of the airport, she kept detailed logs of plane arrival and departure times. She talked to pilots whenever she had a chance, and plotted ways to get into the air. Her first successful attempt came in 1931, when Babe was thirteen.
That summer, Babe convinced her eighty-seven-year old great grandfather, Eugene Olin, to attend an air circus in Lansing. The Lansing State Journal offered $5.00 and a free airplane ride to oldest attendee at the fair. Babe felt that her great-grandfather had a good chance to win. He did, and together, they took that ride in a WACO Taperwing with Roger Don Rae, a stunt flyer from Lansing.
Photo Courtesy of Craig A. Whitford: Marion Weyant and Roger Rae, 1931
Following a Dream
After that first ride, Babe was hooked completely. A 1933 letter from Amelia Earhart encouraged her. â€œI believe that if you are not afraid to work very hard and really wish to enter aviation, you will be able to do so some day,â€ Earhart wrote. Lloyd Weyant, Babe’s father, did not encourage her. He did not want his daughter to be around pilots. Marie Weyant, her mother, was more sympathetic. In 1934, she helped sixteen-year old Babe with an entrepreneurial venture that would pave the way to the sky. Cashing in an insurance policy, mother and daughter used the $65.00 to buy lumber to build a soda-pop stand located at the airport. The idea: sell soda pop to the pilots; make some contacts; get money for lessons. This outdoor canteen flourished and became an established restaurant, first located on the second floor of the airport terminal and then, attached to the left side of the new State Hanger (c. 1936). The Weyant women owned and operated the restaurant until 1941.
Photo Coutesy of Craig A. Whitford: Marie and Marion Weyants’ Soda Pop Stand, circa 1934-1936
Propelled by canteen dollars, Babe flourished as a pilot. Her first teacher/mentor, Johnny Matthews, took her up in his Driggs Skylark for her first flying lesson on August 3,1934. Other mentors and more lessons, including winter flights, followed. On October 27, 1936, she soloed in an Aeronca two-cylinder plane owned by Harvey Hughes. At the time, Babe estimated that the flying lessons over two years cost $400. The reporter noted that the pilots called Marion Weyant, â€œBabe,â€ certainly a name that evoked her youth and petite stature, but failed to capture her determination. She told the press, â€œI want to be a transport pilot . . . I don’t ever want to marry.â€
By 1941, this Michigan aviatrix met her goals: she received her private pilot’s license in 1937 and commercial pilot’s license in 1941. In 1938, Babe prevailed against her competitors, primarily men, by winning third place in the Bernard McFadden Trophy Air Race. She won the Joyce Hartung Trophy in the 1940 Michigan Girl’s Air show. During World War II, Babe, the civilian, taught instrument flying to military pilots using the Link Trainer, the precursor of modern flight simulators. In 1947, Babe did marry. Her husband’s name was Dale C. Ruth, and she became Marion â€œBabeâ€ Ruth, who continued to fly, compete and teach aviation. In 1986, she celebrated fifty years of flying and logged over 10,000 hours in the air. Marion â€œBabeâ€ Weyant Ruth was inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988, Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. She died in 2004.
Photo Courtesy of Craig A. Whitford: Marian Babe Weyant Ruth, 2002