Wilbur C. West

Photo of Wilbur C. West
Wilbur Craft West, 92, of Pine Bluff, Arkansas died October 20, 2010. He was born December 9, 1917 in Pine Bluff to the late James Elmer and Elizabeth Roebuck West. He graduated from Pine Bluff High School, attended Ouachita Baptist University, and received his degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1939. After graduating from college he returned to Pine Bluff to work for Arkansas Power and Light Company. It was during this time that he met his late wife, Ruth Evelyn South. They married on February 14, 1942 just before he received his orders from the United States Army Air Corps to serve in North Africa. He earned his Silver Star on a 1942 mission to bomb the oil fields near Ploesti, Romania, that supplied Nazi Germany's war machine. This was the first American attack on Hitler's Europe. After the Ploesti attack, West's B-24 Liberator ran short of fuel and had to land in neutral Turkey. He and his B-24 crew escaped from Turkey, where they were interned, by saving his map and using it to navigate a stolen plane 400 miles over the Mediterranean Sea to Cypress. First Lieutenant Wilbur West returned home to nine month old twin daughters. He spent the remainder of his war years as a military test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. In June of 1947 a tornado hit his brother's Pine Bluff farm. His brother and his family were killed and West was called to take over the farm. It was during these early farming years that another daughter was born. Life is full of surprises and even though farming was not his first career choice it provided him an opportunity to invent and fly. He co-founded W&A Manufacturing Company in 1954 as a business to make farm equipment of his own design. Three patents, including one for a crop row marker, capped W&A's global sales. He was recognized nationally for his innovations in cotton farming in the Delta. W&A Manufacturing Company is now operated by West's cousin, Bob Atkinson and still concentrates in the Mid-South. Mr. West believed that volunteering was the most important thing that you could do for your community. He was building committee chairman when Jefferson Regional Medical Center was built. He also served on the board there for 40 years. He served as a member and chairman of the board of Simmons First National Bank. He was building committee chairman for First Baptist Church where he was a longtime deacon and developer of their television ministry. He also served on the boards of First South Savings and Loan, Pine Bluff Port Authority, and was on the Board of Trustees of Baptist Medical Center System in Little Rock. He was selected to serve on the board of the American Hospital Association because of his vision and service during his tenure on the Board of Jefferson Regional Medical Center. During this time the medical center completed a 30 million dollar expansion program, established a joint venture PPO with the medical staff, established a diploma school of nursing, and created the Wilbur West Health, Education and Wellness Center. He was a member of the Razorback Wing of the Confederate Air Force where he refurbished and flew an A-26, PT-19, and AT-6. He was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame. He was a member of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau and the Jefferson County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Commission. Mr. West's love of flying carried him not only through the war but as a civilian when he purchased planes for his enjoyment and for business. His favorite pastime was flying the Douglas A-26 Invader, Daisy Mae, in recreations of the Tora, Tora, Tora. He was an avid Razorback fan, enjoyed playing golf, and exercising. He and his wife traveled the world with the Progressive Farmer comparing farming methods overseas with those implemented in the United States. Most of all he loved his family. He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, and his brother, James Franklin West. He is survived by his three daughters, Evelyn West Menz (David) of Little Rock, Ruth West McNulty (Donny) of White Hall and June West Lambi of Pine Bluff; three grandchildren, Erin McNulty McSpadden (Walter) of Little Rock, Wes McNulty (Jamie) of White Hall, and Lee Eilbott of Memphis; five great-grandchildren, Sam, Will, and Lizzy McSpadden of Little Rock and Jake and Josh McNulty of White Hall; his sister, Lola West Cicero of Pine Bluff, and three nephews, David, Larry, and Gary Cicero. Wilbur has had a full and active life. After speaking a brief time with him you would quickly learn many lessons this gentle man had to share. Some serious…some lighthearted. On effort: "I learned "maximum effort" was required to plan, coordinate and carry out military missions; to provide improvement to our communities; and raise a family. God has rewarded that effort." On marriage: "Love with all your heart and play fair. Make sure you have three daughters. Who better to care for you in later life? The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." On success: "It's easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. In everything you do remember the Maker." Funeral services will be 2:30 p.m., Friday, October 22, 2010 at First Baptist Church. Burial will follow in Graceland Cemetery by Ralph Robinson & Son Funeral Directors. A lunch reception will be Friday from 1 p.m. till service time in the Fellowship Hall of First Baptist Church. Visitation will be Thursday evening from 5-7 p.m. at Robinson's. Special thanks to the staff at Trinity Village Medical Center, Hospice Angels, Dr. Dale Terrell, and Mr. West's beloved caregivers; Girtha Adway, Ruby Wainscott, Velma "Bunch" Kentle, Sandra Edgerson, Maria Furlow and Robin Peyton. Memorials may take the form of contributions to First Baptist Church, 6501 South Hazel, Pine Bluff, Ark. 71603; Jefferson Regional Medical Center School of Nursing, 1600 West 40th, Pine Bluff, Ark. 71603; Razorback Wing of the Confederate Air Force, c/o Grider Field, 709 Hangar Row, Pine Bluff, Ark. 71601 or Trinity Village Medical Center, 6400 Trinity Drive, Pine Bluff, Ark. 71603. Online register:

Published October 21, 2010