Dr. Fred Province has lived a life defying both gravity and death.
The Flat River native has earned the title of experimental pilot, radio show host, TV show host, and survivor, in addition to being what some might call one of the luckiest men to come out of the area.
Born in the charity ward of St. Louis City Hospital during the depths of the Great Depression to a family made up of three generations of illiterate lead miners, Fred had humble beginnings. He grew up in Flat River where his grandfather, father, and all of his uncles worked for the St. Joseph Lead Company. His father was a mayor of Flat River in the 1950s.
Fred said that despite his father’s illiteracy, he was very functional.
“He had a lot of get-up-and-go,” Fred said. “Maybe that’s where I got it from.”
The future pilot graduated from Flat River High School and was one of the last students to study World History taught by T.J. Stewart. He would later become an educator himself and said that he was honored to be in Stewart’s last class.
After high school, Fred joined the Army where he served in the Korean War as a parachute jumper. This is where his love for the high elevation thrills of flying was first truly kindled.
After leaving the service, Fred used his veterans benefits to pay for his college education. He attended Flat River Jr. College, now Mineral Area College, and then attended the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Although he was receiving benefits, Fred was unable to afford books the entire time he attended college classes and said he owes his success in college to his great recall skills.
“I have a really good memory and luckily for me, a lot of people mistake that for intelligence,” said Fred, a jovial man who never misses the opportunity to tell a joke.
In 1958, after graduating with a Ph.D. in Education, Fred returned to the area where he worked as a teacher, coach, and later a principal. He also held a few side jobs which included working as a radio show host on the airwaves of KFMO. The young educator and radio show host also embraced his love for adrenaline when he began getting into the field of aviation.
He initially learned how to fly gliders but then went on to fly motor-powered aircraft. As a student pilot, he received his flight training from a German ace by the name of Hans Busch, who flew German military aircraft in World War II.
Fred taught in the Lead Belt area for five years but longed for a chance to teach the subject he was most passionate about, which was aviation. He said he also grew tired of the cold weather.
“It was five below zero … six inches of snow on the ground … my car froze up,” he said. “The students had to wear gloves, coats, and sock caps in the classroom and I thought to myself, ‘There has got to be a better way.’
“I went to the encyclopedia and it said that Southern California had the mildest climate in the contiguous 48 states. There were only 48 states at that time,” he said. “So I moved to Southern California.”
He moved to San Diego in 1963 where he took on three different teaching jobs. He began teaching Consumer Education and Aviation at three different schools of higher learning.
His radio career also continued with him hosting a show at a local radio station. His program was a call-in talk show where listeners would try to stump him with questions about old radio show trivia. He had a collection of more than 30,000 old radio recordings. Callers who asked him a question that he couldn’t answer would win a prize. He said they never gave away a prize.
“It wasn’t that I was so smart, it was that they asked easy questions,” Fred jokingly said.
It was his radio career out in San Diego that would play a vital role in getting Fred into the television business. He would regularly attend the Radio Pioneers’ luncheons in Los Angeles where he had the chance to meet some influential people.
At one of the luncheons, Fred said he was seated at a table with Edgar Bergen, Lawrence Welk, and Roy Roberts. Roberts, who played a banker on the Beverly Hillbillies, learned that he was a pilot and was wanting to host a show about aviation. The two began talking and Roberts decided to use his connections to help him develop his idea for what would later become known as Captain Fred’s Aviation Theater.
His wife, Ana was a co-host on the show. As a fellow pilot, Ana would become the other half of Aviation Theater.
He speaks highly of his wife.
“She speaks five languages,” Fred said of Ana. “Functioning in a second language, she graduated college magna cum laude with a Phi Beta Kappa key.I graduated from college magna cum barely.”
When the couple first began hosting their television show, Fred said it was very primitive. The show gradually became more and more popular. The pair would interview notable figures in the field of aviation and also fly some very unique aircraft.
The list of notable aviation figures that Fred and Ana interviewed include one of the original seven astronauts, Wally Schirra, and the first astronaut to lay eyes on the far side of the moon, Bill Anders.
“We got to meet a lot of interesting people and do a lot of adventurous things,” Fred said.
Some of his adventures, however, would prove to be death-defying experiences for the Aviation Theater host. He recalled some of the times he almost died which included a motorcycle accident, parachute failure, and three airplane crashes. The lucky pilot also mentioned a time he was actually declared dead.
In 2007, while flying an experimental aircraft, the engine failed and the plane slammed into the ground. He said he was taken to the hospital where he said he was declared dead by doctors.
“The plane was totally destroyed and I was killed,” he recalled. “As they were wheeling me to the morgue, I mustered up all the strength I could to yell the word ‘pain.’
The frightened orderlies then looked down at me and said “holy (expletive),” he said.
“They talked it over and decided not to take me to the morgue … which I thought was an excellent decision,” he said while speaking lightheartedly of his dire experience. “I’m sure you haven’t talked to too many people who were killed in an airplane crash.”
After the initial near-death experience, Fred fell into a coma for two months. With Ana by his side the whole time, Fred was able to come out of his coma and eventually make a full recovery.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he said. “I think the Lord is keeping me around for a purpose.
“I’m not sure what that purpose is … maybe it’s to take care of my wife. But, I’m truly grateful whatever the reason is.”
He continued flying and still takes to the skies today. Aviation Theater is still on the air as well in syndication on certain networks. To celebrate the 25th year, the show’s broadcast network is posting the more than 100 episodes on the YouTube platform with new postings weekly.
Fred said he was excited that the excitement and enthusiasm for aviation is still alive and that he is also still alive.
“I’m not a religious fanatic, but I pray every day,” said the grateful captain. “I say ‘thank you, almighty God, for all the blessings and mercies you’ve given me that I don’t deserve’ … and when I pray that, I’m serious and I mean it.
“I’ve done more, had more, and been more than I had any right to expect.”
At the conclusion of each Aviation Theater episode, he would end with the same enthusiastic phrase.
“This is Captain Fred saying, ‘God Bless America and happy landings!’”
Newly posted episodes of Captain Fred’s Aviation Theater can be seen by going to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC41_YUIQHwuTVdFgo0UlWHQ
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at email@example.com.