June 8, 2012

Becky Bramlage, killed with family in Florida plane crash, grew up in Johnson County

Search and recovery teams Friday located the last member of the Bramlages, a family with roots in both Johnson County and central Kansas, lost in a Florida crash of a small plane.

Search and recovery teams Friday located the last member of the Bramlages, a family with roots in both Johnson County and central Kansas, lost in a Florida crash of a small plane.

Thirteen-year-old Boston Bramlage’s body was found about 2:20 p.m. about 0.4 of a mile from the crash site where authorities found five other members of the prominent Junction City family on Thursday, according to the Polk County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office.

“Everybody out there is very relieved and satisfied that we found the boy for the family,” said Scott Wilder, director of communication for the sheriff’s office.

The family was known throughout the Junction City area, where several members of the extended Bramlage family lived. But Becky Bramlage, formerly Becky Johnston, grew up in Johnson County.

The couple was married in Kansas City on September 19, 1992 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Redemptorist Catholic Church.

The Lenexa native served as president of the Geary County School District board and had become a strong force for public schools.

Geary County School District Superintendent Ronald Walker said it was no secret that the Bramlages could have lived anywhere and financed the most elite schools for their children.

But they both placed a strong emphasis on public schools. Becky Bramlage was elected seven years ago and told Walker she expected the small district to be every bit as good as the Shawnee Mission School District where she was educated.

“You can imagine. Shawnee Mission and Junction City are worlds apart, basically. But when she came here she was like, ‘Our schools are going to be as good as anybody’s because I can’t allow the quality of education to be dictated by zip codes,’ ” Walker said. “They placed investments in this school district to make sure it was always successful.”

It was well-known around town that the couple provided scholarships to children who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend a university.

“I’ve been here 10 years and I could say easily they gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships,” Walker said.

He realized the extent of mourning Thursday when he went by the family’s home and saw a crowd of students and adults who had gathered there to grieve together. They had nowhere else to go. Walker opened the schools Friday and had counselors available for students. The district went a step further and offered the counseling services to the greater community, including adults. He’ll do the same on Monday.

Many others gathered at St. Francis Xavier Church in Junction City. The Rev. Al Brungardt encouraged parishioners to come out and share memories of the family. They were a fixture at 9:30 a.m. Sunday mass.

“If they were in town, they were always here,” said Brungardt, who baptized all their children.

The family and many of their relatives were longtime members. Ron Bramlage served on the parish council and as an usher. Their children attended the public school, but the family was supportive of the Catholic school run by the parish. Ron Bramlage, who owned an outdoor advertising company, once erected billboard along I-70 to advertise the small school. The parish, which never could have bankrolled the ad, still talks about it.

Brungardt said his church holds 500 and he doesn’t expect it’s big enough to seat all those who will want to attend memorial services for the Bramlages. He’s heard speculation that the services will be held at Bramlage Auditorium, but “that’s a family decision.”

The grief follows the Thursday crash that came after their small plane had taken off from Treasure Cay Airport in the Bahamas Thursday morning. The family stopped at St. Lucie County International Airport to go through customs. The family left for home shortly after noon. Ron Bramlage, who was piloting the plane, issued a distress call about 30 minutes later. Witnesses reported seeing the airplane spiraling and hearing the crash about the same time, authorities said.

The plane crashed about 12:30 p.m. Thursday in a remote, heavily wooded area near Lake Wales, Fla. The crash killed Ron, 45, and Becky, 43. Boston’s siblings Brandon, 15; Beau, 11; and Roxanne, 8; were also among the dead. The family was easily recognizable throughout Junction City and Kansas in part because Ron’s grandfather, Fred Bramlage is the namesake of Bramlage Coliseum at Kansas State University.

Authorities believe the cabin and other portions of the plane ruptured and broke apart while the plane was about 25,000 feet in the air. The debris trail was scattered for three to four miles. The rupture explains why Boston was not immediately found with the family, authorities said.

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