HACKENSACK -- Too short a career as a pilot on Navy aircraft carriers probably changed 1954 Hackensack School graduate Dick Farrington's life more than the serious auto accident that left him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.
He is still a pilot at heart. If someone devised airplane controls that a person who has just enough mobility to run a power wheelchair could operate, Farrington would be in the air today.
After graduating from Hackensack, he attended one year at St. John's University in Collegeville and one year at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis before being admitted to the Navy flight school.
The two years of flight school were twice as hard as college, he said. He entered flight school Dec. 1, 1956, and graduated Aug. 1, 1958. He was certified to fly low level close air support for special (nuclear) weapons, the last propeller plane the Navy had for air to ground attack.
He flew from the flight decks of the USS Midway (now a museum in San Diego), the Bon Homme Richard and USS Oriskasny.
Flying the planes he was assigned was challenging and exciting because pilots flew low, sometimes 50 feet off the ground. The touch-and-go from a carrier is exciting and gives a sense of pride when successfully repeated, he recalled.
Before he was injured, Farrington planned to extend his enlistment or try for an airline pilot job.
He wasn't the lone pilot from this area. The late Hackensack graduate Larry Kubesh (who died in a plane crash) flew with the Navy. His brother, Jan Kubesh, was an Air Force pilot. Chuck Newman from Longville got his Navy wings the same day as Farrington.
The Midwest produced a lot of good aviators, Farrington recalled, noting one of the first Blue Angels hailed from Hibbing.
Farrington has remained in touch with other former pilots by an ongoing active membership in the Tailhook Association, an association of pilots who have flown from aircraft carriers.
He and his wife, Shirley, also regularly attend the annual air races of vintage airplanes in Las Vegas.
Besides his flying interest, Farrington has collected Winchester rifles and spent more than 30 years breeding Irish setter dogs.
That began when he and Shirley brought a puppy into their home in 1969. That started a long run of breeding and showing. Shirley was president for three years of the 1,500-member national Irish Setter Club.
Though they only bred their dogs every two years, Harrington's puppies provided the foundation for five kennels.
They have one daughter who is a medical assistant. They also have a grandson age 21 and a twin grandson and granddaughter, now 18. Farrington says with a sparkle in his eye that his granddaughter shows interest in aspiring to be a pilot.
Farrington's mother was a Finnley, so his great-grandfather brought the first white family to settle in the Hackensack area.
Traveling to dog and air shows through the years has been challenging for the Farringtons, but rewarding, Dick and Shirley agree. It has gotten a little harder since Shirley was sick a few years ago and the couple now has to rely on a mechanical lift rather than Shirley to move him.
"You call motels to make a reservation and explain you need space under beds to operate the lift," Shirley said. "Then you arrive and find out it is a platform bed with no space underneath to insert the lift base."
To make the couple's return to the reunion possible (their first trip back to Hackensack since 1994) from their home in Riverside, Calif., Donna Witham, a fellow Class of 1954 graduate, flew to California to take shifts with Shirley in the drive here. Witham also helped drive from Hackensack back to Riverside after the reunion.
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