By Deb Smith
When Fay Cox Rogers set her mind to something, there was little anyone could do to stop her. In fact, some say telling her she couldn’t do something wouldn’t just irritate her, but would also make her that much more determined to prove you wrong.
So when the 23-year-old divorcee decided she wanted more out of life than what her native Nebraska could provide, she literally jumped at the first offer that came along. Born Faye Lucille Cox in May 1907, “Rusty,” as she was often called, worked at the local Buick garage in McCook, Neb., keeping books, pumping gas—and of course, wishing she were somewhere else.
Her wish came true in February 1930, when her cousin, M.C. Cox, and his flying circus blew through town on their way to a show in Vernon, Texas. The show was in a pinch because they had just lost their parachute jumper in Denver due to a broken back.
They were looking for a replacement. She was looking for an opportunity.
“Faye begged and pleaded,” said longtime neighbor and friend Jerry Bisgard. “She really wanted that job bad.”
Reluctantly, the cousin gave in.
“But if you mess up,” he warned, “I’m sending you right back here to Red Cloud.”
She just looked at him and laughed. Within days, the five-foot, three inch, 118-pound woman made her first parachute jump from an Alexander Eaglerock, on Feb. 17, 1930.
She had less than an hour’s worth of training and knew little more than to count to three and pull the rip cord.
“But when she hit the ground, she was ready to go right back up,” said Bisgard.
She quickly became known as the “famous girl chute jumper.”
“Faye would always jump with a bag of flour,” said Bisgard. “She’d jump out of the plane and once she cleared it, she’d tear open the corner of this bag and let the flour trail behind her so the audience could follow her descent.”
For the most part, it seemed to work like a charm. But on one jump over El Paso, she tore the bag too much and became engulfed in a puff of white smoke. “She struggled with the flour,” said Bisgard. “The wind had blown it all up in her face and even under her goggles and she couldn’t see.”
By the time she got the flour out of her eyes, she was less than 200 feet off the ground. She tried railroad flares, but the sparks burned holes in the canopy of her parachute.
By the end of 1930, she was not only turning heads, but also setting records for both endurance and altitude. In Denver, she won the “endurance record” for women, jumping an unbelievable four times in three hours. Keep in mind, planes were slower back then—and she packed her own chute each and every time.
She tried the feat again in 1937 in Oklahoma City, making a phenomenal 22 jumps in seven hours. She also held the world’s altitude record for a brazen jump from 18,256 feet.
In her 16-year career, she made more than 500 jumps, landing on rooftops, in the middle of the street—just about anywhere the sponsor wanted.
But because of her weight—or lack thereof—she often had problems with high winds blowing her off course and into trees or picket fences, and on top of cars. Once, she even made a perfect landing astride a local milk cow.
Although never rated as a pilot, she held an airman’s certificate as a parachute rigger, technician and ground instructor—one of the first in the nation.
During World War II, air shows were grounded, and that meant she needed a job. She found solace with the Army Air Force, working as a parachute rigger and rigger instructor.
“To demonstrate confidence in her teaching ability, Faye would randomly take a parachute packed by one of her students and jump with it,” Bisgard said.
She later confessed to Bisgard that she didn’t really do it for the confidence building; she did it simply because she wanted to jump. She made her last jump—number 530—in 1946, right here in Denver.
In October 1948, she married Robert Rogers, who worked for General Motors in Denver. According to Bisgard, when her husband asked her to “settle down” and quit jumping, she agreed.
Over the next 20 years, she would find herself back in bookkeeping—this time as an accountant for the Colorado State Treasurer’s office. Bisgard joked that she often quipped that her “life was so tame now,” even she wondered if she did “all those things.”
But while she no longer could feel the vertical wind in her hair, she opted for the feel of horizontal wind in her hair. She loved cars, said Bisgard, especially Corvettes and Cadillacs.
On one occasion, Bisgard said her love of fast cars put her in a precarious spot with a hotel manager.
“One of the stunt pilots Faye worked with had just bought a brand new Ford, and Faye wanted to drive it,” he said. “So he let her drive it from town to town. One evening, she pulled up to a hotel to get a room and a shower. She walked up to the front desk, rang the buzzer and asked the innkeeper about the availability of a room. There were no vacancies, so Faye thanked her and left. The innkeeper watched her climb into the sporty new car. As Faye shut the door, the innkeeper yelled, ‘Honey, if you’re looking for work, I think I can accommodate you.'”
Rogers said, “I don’t think so,” and left.
Throughout her life, Rogers always loved adventure. One of her biggest came in the form of a motor home that she purchased when she was in her early 90s.
“She bought this big old motor home and would blow down the road at incredible speeds,” said Bisgard. “She’d just have the time of her life, but she didn’t like anyone to pass her.”
Faye Lucille Cox Rogers was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974. She passed away peacefully in her Aurora home at the age of 97.