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Ray Fanchamps

Ray A. Fanchamps, 62, a mainstay at Sylvania Soaring in Wisconsin and a clockmaker by trade, ended his battle against brain cancer on July 11, 2014. He passed peacefully at home with his wife Carol Surowy at his side, as she has been since their college days at the UK’s University of Sussex.

Ray and Carol moved to the US in 1981, settling briefly in St. Louis and Cleveland before moving to Madison, Wisconsin in 1985. There, Ray put his psychology and philosophy degrees to work, counseling troubled teens and he apprenticed as a clockmaker. A move to the Philadelphia area in 1991 advanced Carol’s career in biomedical research and also introduced Ray to the world of soaring. He earned private glider and airplane ratings at Kutztown, where one of his favorite activities was wave soaring near Hawk Mountain.

In 1995, the couple re-located near Sturtevant Wisconsin, close to Carol’s new position at Abbott Labs and even closer to Sylvania Airport, the original home of Sylvania Soaring. There, Ray earned his commercial glider rating and ground instructor certification, he joined the staff and declared the Lark his favorite ride machine. He was certainly a stand-out for his Yorkshire accent, his charm and a fondness for Monty Python-esque humor, but as we also came to realize, a curious combination of candor, exuberance, and determination were Ray’s underlying trademarks.

By then, Ray’s fascination with antique clocks had grown into a business, and his manufacturing skills, his knowledge of their history and the multiple mechanisms used to make these time pieces attracted customers worldwide. Ray served as an officer at local, Regional and National levels of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, and went on to chair the ad hoc committee charged with development of NAWCC’s online information resources.

Every weekend during our April through November season, however, Ray’s passion was soaring and he was a driving force at the airfield - if he wasn’t taking rides, giving ground instruction or updating the Sylvania Soaring website, he ran the line or helped with maintenance chores. With the 2002 addition of a G-103SL to Sylvania’s fleet, Ray had a new favorite ride machine, and he earned his CFIG in order to provide self-launch flight training in it. A year later, Sylvania Soaring owner Steve Stauber bought the privately-owned Beloit Airport, and the glider operation moved 70 miles west, to its current home. 

Ray soon found an alternative to his 280-mile drive each weekend - he refurbished a derelict travel trailer, parked it near the glider hangar and dubbed his weekend digs “The Chateau.” At sunset on any given soaring day in the past decade, the Chateau was the gathering place for staff and customers alike - a cookout often followed, as we reviewed the day’s events and told tales of our past soaring adventures and those planned for the future.

Mid-May this year marked Ray’s last weekend at the Chateau, and while we are saddened by the loss of our inimitable Yorkshireman, we move forward with cherished memories of our remarkable friend and mentor.

 -       Contributed by Judy Ruprecht

Posted: 8/18/2014


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