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Hidden Hero - Sky Pilot Rev. L.C. Robie

In 1892, Leman Charles Robie was born to a jeweler/optician and his wife in Olean, NY. In his early years, Robie was employed as a mechanic, a tool engineer and a semi-professional baseball player. Experiencing a call to revival evangelistic ministry, he attended Bible training institutes and, throughout the 1920's, began "Union Meetings" or "Town Crusades" involving many denominations, preaching in factories, hospitals, and tents often at lunch hour and often traveling by horseback.

Robie preached a fundamental gospel in a plain, fearless, forceful and frank manner. Between preaching, Robie would lead spirited singing accompanied by his playing of accordion, piano, trombone, harmonica, guitar or a flexatone ( a percussion instrument which makes sounds comparable to a musical saw). Sometimes Robie would play two instruments simultaneously.

Robie was known to have preached in over 30 states often covering five to eight states a week. It was not unusual for a campaign to last five or more weeks in one location. In fact, one four week campaign in Auburn was attended by a total of 35,000 followers and achieved over 350 converts. Not all campaigns were easy. While campaigning once in the Utica area, Robie was met with a hostile community response led by bootleggers who threatened his life. In another instance, his tent was burned.

In 1932, Robie received his pilots license and became known as the Flying Evangelist or Sky Pilot Robie. In 1936 a group of Christian businessmen from Union Springs presented him with a plane which enabled him to fly throughout the United States becoming even better known to the thousands who attended his salvation meetings. On one side of the plane were the words "Robie Gospel Ship...Jesus Saves" and on the other "Sky Pilot Robie...With a Message Higher Than He Flies."

In August of 1936, while attempting to take off from the Union Springs airport, the 125- horsepower Gospel Ship failed to gain altitude dropping 200 feet into a maple tree on the Hoskins property located at the north edge of the village (the stone Gothic home now owned by the Cayuga Indian Nation). The airport was located directly opposite the Hoskins home. Robie was injured but vowed to repair the Gospel Ship and return to his mission. During World War II, the Gospel Ship was turned over to the War Training Service for training purposes. On his World War II draft card, Robie listed his employer as "The Lord."

After 40 years of evangelistic service, Robie semi-retired and, in 1960, re-opened the Faith Community Chapel of Aurora located on Poplar Ridge Rd. He remained pastor there until 1980. The high regard in which Rev. Robie is held can be found in taped interviews conducted with him which are housed in the archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Robie died in 1983 after being struck by a car at the corner of Seminary St. and Seminary Ave. in Auburn. Robie had resided at 5 Seminary St. in Union Springs for 53 years. How interesting it is the streets named Seminary played such a significant role in his life. Today we salute Sky Pilot Robie - a local resident known and recognized nationally and internationally for his salvation ministry.


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