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  • Published Monday, March 12, 2007, at 7:44 a.m.

There was Joseph Otero the dad -- sometimes stern with high expectations for his five children. Report cards with B's required explanations.

Then, there was Joseph Otero the man -- obsessed with aviation and cars, a talented bongo player, a flirt, a cut-up.

Charlie Otero remembers both sides of his father. As a 15-year-old, he was just beginning to bond with his dad when Joseph died in 1974 at the age of 38.

"He was the life of the party," Charlie said. "If there were 20 guys in a room, he'd be in the middle making them all laugh, telling stories, joshing with people, flirting with girls. He was not a shy person."

That side of Otero sometimes came out in his parenting too, Charlie said. Otero was known to brag about his children's accomplishments. And his fun-loving nature would often inspire flashes of silliness -- like the time he dragged his kids through a store on a snow sled he intended to buy them.

Born in Puerto Rico, Otero immigrated to the United States as a boy.

He grew up in New York City's Spanish Harlem, where he became a champion boxer and fell in love with Julie, a girl from the neighborhood and another Puerto Rican transplant.

As soon as he was old enough, Otero joined the Air Force, where he served for 20 years. He retired as a master sergeant just before moving his family to Wichita in the fall of 1973.

His final deployment took him to the Panama Canal Zone, one of many exotic sites he visited. Charlie remembers that his father, a gourmet cook, would sample dishes during his travels, pick up the recipes and try to perfect them at home.

Otero, who had a commercial pilot's license, was obsessed with aviation and wanted to live in Wichita because it was the Air Capital, acquaintances remembered. During his short time in Wichita, he worked as a mechanic and flight instructor at a Rose Hill airport.

He was just starting to establish himself in the community.

Days after his death, an acquaintance from the McConnell Aero Club recalled that Otero had recently invited him to his house for dinner.

The man never got a chance to take Otero up on that invitation.

-- Denise Neil

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