Charles Richard (Dick) Komberec
November 9, 2023
Charles Richard (Dick) Komberec passed away on October 28, 2023, at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, where he had received exceptional and compassionate care.
Dick was born in Thompson Falls, Montana on March 18, 1947. From his early beginnings, Dick was a hard worker. Always willing to help provide for his family, one of his first jobs as a young boy was delivering newspapers up and down the hills of Thompson Falls by bicycle, mostly in the snow and in the dark before school. This would lay the groundwork for a lifetime dedicated to never giving up. When he was quite young, Dick's family moved in search of work across Montana countless times, landing them in Drummond, MT. It was there he read the book "Tall Timber Pilots," that forever changed his life. He knew what he was born to do. He had to become a Johnson Flying Service mountain pilot.
In his quest to become a pilot, Dick became friends with many of the older local men who knew how to fly, many of whom served during WWII. His father helped Dick, who had no money but had a dream, to convert a late 40's GMC to haul garbage in Drummond. At 15 years old, he started his first business, earning enough money to pay for flying lessons and to purchase his first airplane at 16. Dick would go on to own dozens of airplanes and helicopters throughout his lifetime, many of which were rare antiques. Flying would be a lifetime passion and a rewarding career.
His first flying job was for Bob Lueck of Missoula Sky Flight in 1965 where he had taken flying lessons. He was an excellent instructor, as he had a natural gift for understanding the mechanics of flight and of aircraft. He taught many young men how to fly and launched several of them on careers in aviation and forming countless lifetime relationships with people he would stay in close contact with for the next 60 years. Once again, Dick's work ethic would pay off. Soon, Jack Hughes, Bob Johnson's Chief Pilot, took notice of Dick and admired his ambition and talent at the airport. Dick was offered a pilot position at Johnson's not long after his 20th birthday. As a Johnson pilot, there wasn't anything Dick couldn't fly. He would go on to pilot countless rare aircraft, fly backcountry missions, spray in TBM Avengers, drop Smokejumpers out of DC-3's and become an Air Tanker Pilot in the TBM and A-26 WWII era Firebombers. Some of his most memorable times were the months spent spraying for spruce bud worm in Canada, and he had many stories of those adventures. Dick was an Army Veteran and served 6 years in the Montana Army National Guard. He received an Honorable Discharge in 1974.
In 1975, when Johnson Flying Service was sold, Dick would go on to the next major chapter of his life. In 1977, Dick was hired by Western Airlines. That job would let him experience the glory days of commercial airline flying and allow him to see the world. He would retire from Delta Airlines as an International 767 Captain in 2005. As airlines do, at times there were furloughs. Again, Dick's work ethic would pay off. He was never without work and always willing to provide for his family. To make a living at these times, Dick would fly various corporate jobs, started his own Part 135 Certificate with a Lear-Jet and sometimes fell back on his next passion in life, heavy equipment operator and, most importantly, gold mining. One job at a time was never enough for Dick. Over fifty years he built countless roads, would fight wildland fire with heavy equipment, and mine for gold. Dick was such an interesting man that over the last few years multiple reality TV films would take notice. Dick and his son Eric got to spend Dick's last mining season working together filming for the Discovery Channel. Dick and Eric will be featured in the spring of 2024 on the TV program, "Gold Rush Freddy Dodge's Mine Rescue." Dick had a lifelong passion for old 35-mm and 16-mm films and old movies that stems back to his childhood memories of running the old projectors at the Drummond theater.
Dick was a self-made historian and preserver of history. In 1994, along with a couple of local friends he founded, invested in, and became a lifetime member of the Board of Directors of the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula. Dick was committed to preserving the history of aviation in Montana. He co-authored the book, "Tall Trees, Tough Pilots," with his long-time friend, Kathy Ogren. In 2019, the Museum's DC-3, N24320, now known as Miss Montana, was being prepared to fly to Normandy, France, to participate in the re-enactment of the Normandy Invasion during World War II. Due to time constraints, repairs and upgrades to N24320 were not completed in time to train all the pilots and co-pilots who would fly to Normandy, so Dick took on a significant financial obligation and purchased an original 1941 Western Airlines DC-3. With this plane, the Museum's flight crew was able to complete pilot training and complete this historic mission representing all Montanans in Europe. Miss Montana remains a showpiece of the Museum and was dedicated as the "Official State Airplane of Montana" by Governor Gianforte during a ceremony in May 2023 when Dick and Kathy Ogren were inducted into the Museum's Hall of Fame for their lifetime commitment to preserve aviation history in Montana.
Always interested in local mining history in Montana, Dick was a fountain of information about gold mining in the Garnet area. In high school, he became friends with some of the old timers who had mined the area during the depression and began purchasing property in the Bearmouth and Garnet areas where he built his dream home. An aircraft hangar and house with a landing strip out the front door made for the perfect place to retire, raise cattle, horses, and dogs and watch his grandchildren grow.
Dick was preceded in death by his parents, Wilbur Komberec and Jeanne Doty Whitney, and his youngest brother, Robin Komberec. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Jo (Enman) Komberec, his son Eric Richard (Tia) Komberec (Kalispell) and their children, Taylor and Avian, a step-son Jeffrey Dale Wilson (Missoula), and his children, Danica and Chloe. Also surviving are two of Dick's brothers, Thomas Komberec (Drummond) and Timothy (Linda) Komberec (Athol, Idaho), and his niece and nephew.
A Celebration of Life is planned Sunday, March 17, 2024, at the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula (5843 Museum Way at the Airport). In lieu of flowers, the family has established a scholarship account in Dick's honor, through the Museum of Mountain Flying, which will provide one young, ambitious, hardworking youth interested in a career in aviation with financial assistance to obtain his/her private pilot license while attending high school. This fund will hopefully influence countless young people to chase after their dreams. Contributions to the scholarship fund can be made in Dick's memory and would be welcome. Donations should be sent to the Museum of Mountain Flying, P.O. Box 16601, Missoula, MT 59808. Please note on the donation memo line that your donation should be directed to the Charles R. Komberec "High Flight" Scholarship Fund.
Arrangements are under the direction of Garden City Funeral Home & Crematory, Missoula.