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Children of Plane Crash Victim Discuss Events of 50 Years Ago

by and on September 03, 2019 4:00 AM

Almost 50 years later, Kim Harpster, still won’t get on a plane. She is the daughter of Gerald “Jerry” W. Robison, one of four Bellefonte leaders who died in a plane crash while flying to Harrisburg Sept. 4, 1969 to meet with government officials about the Big Spring Bi-Centennial.

Harpster remembers flying with her father and uncle before the tragic crash, but she hasn’t set foot on a plane since. She said she just can’t do it.

On Wednesday, Bellefonte will remember her father and the other three men who died that day 50 years ago — in one of the more tragic events that occurred in the Victorian town’s storied history — with a ceremony in Talleyrand Park at 6 p.m.

Along with Robison, Bellefonte lost Sidney Willar, 79; Robert M. Dunlap, 47; and Harold R. Flick, 35, in the crash that day. The ceremony will be a chance for the town and families to remember the men who were working to better Bellefonte.

For the two daughters of Robison, it is a chance to look back at 50 years without a dad that they loved.

The group of town leaders was headed on a trip to meet with legislators about the Big Spring Bi-Centennial ceremony. Willar, Flick and Dunlap were co-owners of Dunlop Motors at the time of their death.

Willar was serving as Bellefonte mayor at the time of the crash. He was just a few months into his term.

Flick served as president of the Bellefonte Jaycees, and was the man who cut the ribbon when Interstate-80 opened. He graduated in 1952 from Bellefonte High School and was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and the Undine Fire Company.

Robison was a graduate of Bellefonte High School and a member of Bellefonte Jaycees. He worked at Penn State and served in the Navy. He was also a drummer in a local band.

The men took off from Bellefonte Airport that day in plane piloted by Flick, according to Harpster and her sister Brenda Winder, but fog caused them to turn back.

Unfortunately, when they set out again, the fog became a factor and they fatally crashed into a mountain near Port Royal. None of the men survived.

Harpster was six years old and Winder was nine years old at the time of the crash and both remember being very confused about what was going on.

Their dad had gone to work that day, but eventually she realized something was wrong as family members began coming to the house.

“I can remember my uncle coming up and saying something about a plane crash but they didn’t have any definite answers. And then pretty soon everybody just started showing up at the house and I kind of eavesdropped and heard what was going on,” said Harpster.

“I don’t think I knew how to respond, because I don’t think I truly understood the fact that he was never coming back,” said Winder. “The first thing I remember is my aunt coming to the door and shutting the door and crying. And then I remember mom sent us to our room until she came in our room and told us.”

“I just remember bawling – curling up in our bed and bawling,” said Harpster.

It was a difficult, confusing time for the close knit family, but they both credit their mom, Janet, with being the guiding force, taking on the roll of head of the house, going back to work and making sure they were safe and cared for.

“She made sure we had a good home. At the time we thought she was strict, but when you are older you realize that she was doing what she felt she needed to do,” said Harpster.

They both feel bad for the things that they wished their dad wouldn’t have missed.

“There are times where you think that he didn’t get to see us graduate high school. He didn’t get to walk us down the aisle. He didn’t get to meet his grandkids or great-grand kids. You think about the different things that he missed,” said Harpster.

“I think that sometimes you just don’t know what you missed. So you just take the memories that you do have, the things that you do remember and focus on those. Life, no matter how hard it is, life goes on,” said Winder.

To help remember their dad they have their father’s Navy dog tags and pictures. Sometimes, they play a record that their dad recorded with his band. The sister said they felt the ceremony in Bellefonte is a good way for the town to remember the group of men who were trying to help the community.

“I hope people know that they were doing something for Bellefonte, to improve the town for future generations,” said Harpster. “It is not as fresh as it was then, but it still hurts.”

While Harpster won’t get near a plane, Winder uses her father’s memory to make sure that she treats every day for the gift that it is.

“I have taken several mission trips to Africa, Guatemala, Mexico and the Philippines, and people look at me like, ‘how can you get in an airplane?’ Well, you know what, if I didn’t, I’d miss a whole lot of life,” said Winder.

The memorial service will be held in the sculpture garden of Talleyrand Park at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4. Four lamp posts stand in this section of Talleyrand Park in commemoration for their service to the community.

“I think it is good because for a long time they were forgotten. The poles were put there in their memory. The plaques were put there in their memory. But it was like when they placed them, there wasn’t any ceremony,” Harpster.

“I think a lot of the younger generation doesn’t know why they are there,” sad Winder. It goes so far as people often misspell the Robison name when they report on the story, which occurred in the Gazette in the Aug.15 edition.

“It happens all the time. I think people see Robison and they automatically think Robinson. It happened all the time, even in school,” said Winder. “But there is something about making sure that it is spelled right.”

The ceremony occurring on Sept. 4 will allow the community to learn and remember about the tragic event and the men who died that day. Many members of the Robison family will be there, including their mom. For Harpster, she remembers her dad every time someone in her family leaves the house.

“He went to work that morning and we said our goodbyes,” said Harpster. “I think that was one of the reasons why afterwards we never left the house without saying, ‘I love you.’ And I still do it today. I don’t care if they are going out to get gas, I say ‘I love you,’ because you just don’t know. He went to work that morning and he just didn’t come home.”

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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