In an event that had its fair share of laughter, and tears, the K-State Salina family gathered Friday afternoon to remember and honor a beloved instructor who was killed in a plane crash late last year.
Charles “Charlie” Sojka was remembered as a veteran, a teacher, a husband, a father, a mentor, and a friend. A celebration of his life was held at the College Center on the KSU Salina Campus. It included full military honors, a brief program, and a lengthy sharing of memories from Sojka’s family, co-workers, and friends.
Dean Verna Fitzsimmons called the gathering a celebration of life. She said the purpose was for family and friends to realize the impact Charlie had on the community through the way he lived his life.
KSU Salina’s Dr. Kurt Barnhart remembered Sojka as having a great relationship with his students. “But he was tough, and had high standards” Barnhart added.
Sojka’s daughter and son both spoke has well, sharing fond memories and anecdotes about their father.
Sojka was a flight instructor, and the director of flight maintenance at KSU Salina when died back in November when an airplane he was piloting crashed near Booneville, Missouri. He and his family were headed home to Salina on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
Among the more poignant speakers was Gunner Wiles. “Charlie and I butted heads”, Wiles said as he choked back tears, and paused several times to regain his composure . “It takes a lot to make this old Marine cry”, he said.
Wiles worked for the Salina Airport Authority after retiring from the Marines, and first got to know Sojka professionally. After Wiles left the airport job to enroll as a full-time student at KSU Salina, Sojka became one of his instructors and taught him to fly. “Charlie was a hero” Wiles said, referring to the fatal crash. “I spoke with the fire department who performed the rescue of the family after the plane crashed, and they believe that the rest of the family survived because of Charlie”.
Wiles concluded “every time I’m on an approach, every time I am alone up there, I will think of Charlie”.