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John Shark remembered for his love of aviation

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, July 29, 2013, at 6:40 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, July 29, 2013, at 7:07 a.m.

John Shark loved telling stories, and he learned a lot of them working for more than a decade as a volunteer to help restore “Doc” – a vintage B-29 Superfortress – to flying condition.

Now people are telling stories about Mr. Shark, a former Boeing quality assurance inspector, who died last week. He was 77.

Lon Smith, director of the Kansas Aviation Museum, remembered the day he met Mr. Shark. It was Smith’s first day on the job. He said he found a group of eight to 10 men pounding on the walls of the museum during a demolition project. Up on a ladder was a white-haired man about the age Smith’s father would have been had he still been alive.

Mr. Shark looked down at him and asked him who he was. When Smith identified himself as the museum’s new director, Mr. Shark told him to grab a sledgehammer and join them.

Smith said he removed his sport coat and went to work, knocking down a wall with Mr. Shark.

“This is a guy in his seventies with a pacemaker,” Smith said in an e-mail. “I was in dress clothes and covered in muck, and he just laughed and slapped me on the back. ‘Welcome to the museum.’”

“That was very typical of him,” said Max Parkhurst, who had worked with Mr. Shark on “Doc” since 2002. “He was everybody’s friend immediately.”

Mr. Shark worked in aviation all his life, mostly with Boeing. He worked at the Kennedy Space Center on the Apollo program in the 1960s and knew some of the nation’s first astronauts.

In a 2009 YouTube interview, Mr. Shark said that filming the launch of the Apollo 11 Saturn carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon in 1969 for the first lunar landing was the most exciting thing he ever did.

For Smith, Mr. Shark became a second father. Even in years when the “Doc” restoration project was stalled, Mr. Shark was there to help the aviation museum, Smith said

“You know how there are some people who, when you’re really in need, just show up, and always say the right thing?” Smith said. “He was just a very warm, comforting person. He was always there when I needed him.

“He was very unassuming. He wasn’t looking for a lot of accolades. But he was there. And that’s a lot.”

Mr. Shark often printed a photo of “Doc” and wrote a message of thanks on top of it, then framed it and gave it to people who helped with the effort.

“He was an enthusiastic guy,” Parkhurst said. “He was always raring to do something new, and he loved do anything in the way of graphics and publicity.

“He loved to talk to people.”

The project to restore the bomber, built by Boeing Wichita, had been on hold for several years because of a poor economy and lack of hangar space. But it was revived this spring by a group of Wichitans called “Doc’s Friends,” and Mr. Shark was excited to be part of the effort, Parkhurst said.

“He just liked airplanes,” Parkhurst said. “And a chance to restore a World War II plane built here, and honor the World War II veterans who flew that airplane, was a challenge we enjoyed.”

Services for Mr. Shark will be Tuesday at 10 a.m. at All Saints Catholic Church, 3205 E. Grand. Visitation with the family will be 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Downing & Lahey Mortuary East, 6555 E. Central.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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