Ron Reuther was among the first members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society, and was perhaps the most cerebral and historically erudite of all. Reuther often provided previously unknown background information that brought new perspectives to heated discussions, and was known to introduce new and enlightening topics that enhanced learning.
Reuther founded the Oakland Aviation Museum in 1981, directed the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973, and helped to catalog and prepare Fred Goerner’s papers for their placement at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.
While director of the San Francisco Zoo, Mr. Reuther took a sickly baby gorilla named Koko into his home and, with his children’s help, nursed her back to health. A few months later, a Stanford psychology graduate student who had been studying the zoo’s apes asked for permission to work with Koko. Mr. Reuther agreed and the student, Penny Patterson, began a life’s work teaching American Sign Language to Koko and researching apes’ capacity for language.
Reuther was also a friend of Fred Goerner, and six months after the groundbreaking author of The Search for Amelia Earhart finally lost his battle to cancer, Reuther penned an eloquent tribute to the late author and researcher, which was published in the July 1995 edition of the Amelia Earhart Newsletter.
by Ronald T. Reuther
May 31, 1995
Amelia Earhart researcher and author Fred Goerner died after a four-year battle with stomach cancer on Sept. 13, 1994 at his home in San Francisco at the age of 69.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1926, he moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of seven, where his father worked in motion pictures and recording work. His father, also a cellist, later appeared with Artie Shaw’s Orchestra in the early 1940s. Fred served three years in the U.S. Navy Seabees during World War II, some of this time on assignment on Pacific islands. He was a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara majoring in speech and held a master’s degree from the University of Utah. He taught a year at Westminster College, and then went to work for a Salt Lake City television station. He spent five years doing newscasts, sports shows, children’s programs and, for a time, hosting late night movies. In 1960 he was hired by KCBS Radio in San Francisco where one of his assignments was as a staff reporter. There he wrote and produced KALEIDOSCOPE, a weekly feature dealing with the colorful past and present of San Francisco. He also wrote and produced other features for the CBS Radio DIMENSION series. Goerner became a familiar voice on KCBS, co-hosting a 1960’s talk show, Spectrum 74 on which he interviewed celebrities from John F. Kennedy to Jayne Mansfield.
Goerner won a much-coveted Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for his report on a World War II bomber and its crew discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He also became a licensed private pilot.
Fred became best known for his exhaustive investigation of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. His book The Search for Amelia Earhart, published in 1966 by Doubleday, became popular and was widely read. In his book, Fred theorized that Earhart and Noonan were on a secret mission, were captured by the Japanese, and died in captivity on Saipan. Neither the United States nor the Japanese government ever admitted this was the case, however, and the mystery remains unsolved. On the day of his death, Fred tape recorded that he “believed that Amelia Earhart and Noonan were not on a secret mission for the U.S. military, because the military didn’t have the dollars.” He stated he “believes they collected ‘white intelligence.’ ” He also believed “they landed on one of five small reefs between Howland Island and the northern Phoenix Islands and that it is possible the plane is still there.” Other researchers with access to Fred’s correspondence and records may be able to determine why Fred no longer thought they went down in the Marshall Islands. It is still possible they were then taken from the Marshall Islands and later to Saipan.
Starting in 1960 with an article that appeared in the San Mateo Times. Fred became vitally interested in determining what might have happened to Amelia and Noonan and their Lockheed 10-E. He completed a total of six trips to various Pacific Islands and many trips to other locations tracking down information and to interview literally thousands of people involved in or having information about the famous pilot and navigator, their airplane and its equipment, and their last flight. This resulted in the publication of The Search for Amelia Earhart and significantly increased the public’s interest in the story.
Fred, a meticulous and thorough researcher and author, continued his normal employment as a broadcaster, but became in demand as a speaker and correspondent on the subject of Amelia’s last flight. His recall of fact and event was remarkable and obvious when he spoke. Fred became a friend of Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the American Naval Forces in the Pacific during World War II, as a result of his research in the Earhart affair.
Goerner’s research of the story continued after his book’s publication and up to his death, as he corresponded with people and agencies around the world in pursuit of more information and the truth of the story. Many later authors were stimulated to initiate their study of and writing about the Earhart/Noonan story by Fred’s book.
Goerner participated in a number of symposia on the subject. He intended to write a sequel to his book, but never did. He did write some articles and was frequently interviewed and quoted by other authors and journalists.
As a result of his experiences with the Earhart story, he became interested in several related subjects: intelligence in general and specifically in the Pacific; the background and history of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; the disappearance of Lt. Col. “Pete” Ellis, USMC; FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt); the Japanese and especially their war and activities in the Pacific; the U.S. Navy; the battle of Tarawa in World War II; and in aviation. He also intended to write books on Pearl Harbor, and on Ellis, but never did.
He did produce and narrate a major documentary film on the U.S. Marines and the battle of Tarawa. He also recorded and cataloged a major collection of World War II music and songs.
After recurring problems and operations for cancer, his strength ebbed notably in the last year of his life. On the day of his death he tape recorded his last comments on the Earhart and Noonan mystery.
Fred accumulated an excellent library (some 800 volumes) and frequently underlined and wrote comments in the margins of the books, some very rare, that related to the above subjects. His voluminous correspondence, many feet of audio taped interviews (20 volumes), 101 other tapes on Earhart/Noonan; and many 16mm films on the same subjects were given to the Admiral Nimitz Museum.
He arranged most fittingly that his material go to the museum in the Nimitz State Park in Fredericksburg, Texas, Admiral Nimitz’s birthplace and hometown. He had visited and lectured there in the last two years of his life.
His widow, Merla Zellerbach Goerner, completed her husband’s wishes and the world now has the Goerner collection available for study in combination with other related materials in the Nimitz Museum.
Goerner is survived by his widow, a son Lance, stepchildren Gary and Linda Zellerbach, and two grandchildren. (End of Reuther tribute.)
Ron Reuther passed away on Oct. 4, 2007. For more on Reuther’s work in Earhart research, please click here. Goerner’s name and record are ubiquitous in Earhart history since 1960. Please click here for Goerner-related stories on this blog.