Aviation pioneer’s gift helps students fly high

A regional aviation pioneer’s estate has presented Missouri Southern State University a $1 million gift to benefit students in need.

The gift, from the estate of the late Harrison and June Harper, will add to an existing endowed scholarship created by the Harpers, said Kevin Greim, associate vice president for Development at the university.

“The scholarship is for upper-division students – juniors and seniors – demonstrating financial need,” said Greim. “This gift will greatly increase the number of students who benefit from it.”

Harrison Harper was a pioneer in local aviation history. The Valentine, Neb., native moved to Carthage, Mo., in 1931 and took over the airport there. Two years later, he began maintaining Joplin’s first airport, which was located near West Seventh Street, across from Schifferdecker Golf Course. He ran operations for both airports until 1935.

In the late 1930s, Harper was instrumental in establishing a civil aviation training school in conjunction with Joplin Junior College. The program – under the auspices of the Federal Civil Aeronautics Authority – provided 72 hours of ground school training, followed by additional hours of flight training at the Joplin airport. He gave flying lessons using a 50-horsepower motorized Piper Cub trainer plane.

The Civil Aeronautics Act, passed in 1938, contained language that would create the Civilian Pilot Training Program. President Roosevelt officially unveiled the program late that year. As World War II loomed ever nearer, over 1,100 educational institutions and close to 1,500 flight schools were taking part.

A Joplin Globe story from November 1940 revealed that beginning and advanced courses were being offered for college students and graduates. The beginning course led to a private pilot’s certificate while advanced students received a restricted commercial license.

In Missouri, a total of 590 students initially signed up for pilot’s training. Twenty of those initial students were JJC students. The teachers were Harrison Harper and Walter Arling. Harper gave lessons using a 50-horsepower motorized Piper Cub trainer plane.

Harper was recognized as a distinguished member of the OX5 Club of America, open only to aviators who had flying experience in OX5’s prior to Dec. 31, 1940. Legendary pilots Jimmy Doolittle and Eddie Rickenbacker were also members of this renowned club.

He returned to Joplin after World War II and established Harper’s Airport near the Joplin airport, which he operated from 1948 to 1953. He retired from airport operations in 1953, relocating to Grand Lake. He passed away in October of 1977.

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