Vivian Snook Smedal was born in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, on March 3, 1908, to William Floyd and Adella May (Sisler) Snook. Vivian had one older sister, Mary Neta (1896-1991), and an older brother, William Benjamin (1903-1906), and a younger sister (born and died the same day in 1909).
When Vivian was five, in 1913, the Snook family moved to Ames and initially lived at 623 Crawford Avenue. This was the first of three homes which William Floyd (Papa) Snook built for his family in that community. In just a few years, the family moved into the second home, located at 224 East 7th Street.
Neta graduated from Ames High School in 1915, and Vivian in 1924 (an excellent student, she received her diploma at age 16). Although separated by 12 years, both sisters had a keen interest in aviation and flying. Neta soloed in 1920, and eventually became Amelia Earhart’s first flight instructor. (See Neta Snook Southern’s book, I Taught Amelia to Fly.) Vivian “followed in her sister’s footsteps,” earning her pilot’s license as well. In fact, the Ames, Iowa, Daily Tribune of June 5, 1929, reported that Vivian was “…the first woman who ever took her flying instruction in Ames….”
The airport in Ames was the site of the Gerbracht Aeronautic Corporation, and its owners were brothers Joe and Wilford Gerbrach (see Gerbracht Aeronautic Corporation). Joe was well-known in town as the owner and manager of the Ames theaters. Vivian worked for the Tribune Publishing Company and then later at the Ames Theater Company.
In April of 1929, Vivian applied to the U. S. Department of Commerce, Aeronautics Branch, in Washington for her Student Pilot’s permit. Authorization was issued on May 28. Her student flying license was Number 17227. Vivian had signed an Instruction Agreement with the Gerbracht Aeronautic Corporation of Iowa for 10 hours “in the art of practical flying” at a cost of $200. Wilford was her instructor. After only 7 ½ hours of instruction, which included loops and spins, Vivian soloed in a Travel Air biplane powered by an OX5 engine on June 4, 1929, from the Gerbracht Airport south of Ames. Now both Snook sisters had become licensed pilots!
To use the remaining time on the Instruction Agreement, she flew to Cedar Rapids to visit friends. Wilford, who had business in Cedar Rapids, accompanied her as her passenger! Vivian never entered aviation commercially but retained her interest in aviation and joined the OX5 Aviation Pioneers.
Vivian Snook had many and varied interests. Among these were big, powerful convertibles, horses, and dogs. In 1930, she bought a seven-generation pedigreed golden brindle Great Dane that was imported from Germany. He was a massive animal, 36 inches high at the shoulder and weighing 160 pounds. Named Durban von der Gartenstadt, he eventually was “adopted” by the Iowa State College football team as its mascot. Called Cy, Durban wore a custom-made cardinal and gold blanket, which he wore draped over his back, as he was paraded before football games. Unfortunately, Durban took sick unexpectedly and died at the Iowa State College veterinary hospital at the age of five years.
Vivian was married to Olav Smedal on August 1, 1937, in her parents’ home at 828 Wilson Ave. Olav’s father, Pastor Gotfred Smedal, officiated at the ceremony. Olav and Vivian lived in Ames from the end of World War II until their deaths in 1993 and 1996, respectively, at the age of 88 years.