The Liberty Gazette
February 16, 2016Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: I heard about another gal named Linda who grew up in Oklahoma in a one-room house without electricity or plumbing. The house had a pot-bellied wood stove and the family had only one bed. Girls weren’t generally encouraged in sports back then. One woman recalls being told that if she ran too fast her uterus would fall out.
Determined to rise above the conditions into which she was born, Linda held fast to something she heard about when she was only six or seven: that there was a way to go to college and play basketball. There was this team in Texas, and they didn’t ever lose. Maybe someday she could play for them – the greatest basketball team ever.
Mike: At first they were called the Lassies, and when the local Harvest Queen Mill became their sponsor the team became the Harvest Queens. But when the mill’s sponsorship term ended Wayland Baptist College in Plainview needed support so they turned to a community leader and graduate of Wayland, Claude Hutcherson, owner of Hutcherson Air Service.
Claude had helped the team by providing transportation to far-away games, but his support would increase dramatically and for the next few decades the Hutcherson Flying Queens would earn a 712-106 record, including an astounding collegiate record of 131 consecutive victories, 10 AAU national championships and 10 second-place finishes.
Hutcherson got his start selling and servicing airplanes in Plainview, founding Hutcherson Air Service in 1948. This successful local businessman made a lasting and unique impression in women’s basketball history, but more importantly, he helped many young ladies reach goals.
Not only did he purchase uniforms and spiffy travel outfits, but he furnished four Beechcraft Bonanza airplanes to transport the team and coaches to games, piloting one of the planes himself.
Truly caring about the team he was adamant about safety. By one report, when he refused to fly in bad weather it caused him to miss his daughter's wedding when the team became stranded in Kansas City, Missouri.
Today, Hutcherson Center is the physical education center on the Wayland campus, home of both men’s and women’s basketball teams, and athletic department offices.
Many women have said they could not have gone to college had it not been for Claude. He not only helped provide for college, and basketball, uniforms and transportation, but even a winter coat if needed. He spent millions to help them, and in an interview said he’d do it all over again.
Linda: Claude’s widow published a book about the interesting life of her late husband so that their grandchildren and great grandchildren would know who he was. It may be hard to get your hands on a copy of "Reaching Goals: The life of Claude Hutcherson" because copies were printed mainly for the family, but there is also a documentary in the works. It’s called "The Flying Queens: A Basketball Dynasty" (www.flyingqueens.com).
After graduation from Wayland, Linda the basketball star gave her time to special needs children and advocated for improvements in mental health. She became the Administrator of the Harris County Psychiatric Center, and eventually held executive positions within MHMRA and the University of Health Science Center-Houston. The girl who grew up in a one room house without plumbing or electricity became one of Houston City Magazine’s "Most Powerful Women in Houston". While some of the credit goes to determination and great coaching, in this story aviation played an important part.