August 14, 2013

Wichita aviator, business owner George Taylor Johnson dies at 83

George Taylor Johnson – an aviator, business owner and community leader – will be missed, say the people he mentored and the friends he made.

George Taylor Johnson – an aviator, business owner and community leader – will be missed, say the people he mentored and the friends he made.

“He was a tough guy and wasn’t one of those people who gave up on much of anything,” said close friend and nationally known architect Charles McAfee. “He was the guy who was 100 percent dedicated to Wichita. … A lot of us will miss him.”

Mr. Johnson died Aug. 3. He was 83.

A wake is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Jackson Mortuary, 1125 E. 13th St. Funeral services will be at noon Saturday at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1817 N. Volutsia.

Although he was born on Jan. 12, 1930, in Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Johnson’s family had strong ties to Wichita. His grandfather was John Henry Van Leu, one of the nation’s leading Baptist evangelists of the time and one of the largest property owners in Wichita during the early 20th century.

His grandmother gave Mr. Johnson the nickname “Junebug.” It stuck and was used throughout his life by family and friends.

When he was a boy, Mr. Johnson’s mother moved back to Wichita with him. He grew up in an era and neighborhood where the Water Street Hotel, 638 N. Water, housed traveling African-Americans such as musician Fats Domino, Duke Ellington’s band, comedian Moms Mabley and baseball star Satchel Paige.

The black business district, where he grew up, included the Van Leu Building, which housed offices for doctors, lawyers and real estate agents.

Mr. Johnson attended Douglass Elementary, Central Intermediate and East High schools. He joined the U.S. Army at age 17 and then made the military his career, serving in military installations throughout the U.S., Japan and Germany.

He was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from the U.S. Army Aviation School’s Helicopter Pilot Course at Fort Rucker, Ala. A pilot in the Vietnam War, he received a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1964 for rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter.

Mr. Johnson was inducted into the National Black Aviation Hall of Fame and was a charter member of the Black Pilots of America. He founded the U.S. Army Aviation Association in 1983.

In 1967, Mr. Johnson retired from the service and began working in management for Beech Aircraft in Wichita. In 1992, he retired from Beech and became president and CEO of Diversified Educational Training and Manufacturing Co., which offered courses for welfare recipients.

A few years later, Mr. Johnson was named the Small Business Administration’s welfare-to-work businessperson. He was invited to be on Vice President Al Gore’s welfare-to-work task force.

But by 2002, his health began to fail, and the business came under tough scrutiny. The state eventually dropped its funding of DETAMC, deciding the program was no longer effective.

Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Pamela Cole Johnson; five children; 10 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

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