Captain Wendell L. Levister was the keynote speaker on Oct. 9 as the Chicago Area Pilots Foundation hosted its first ever scholarship dinner and fundraiser at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren.
Before presenting the winners with their scholarships, Levister spoke at length of his many adversities and triumphs in the field of aviation. Starting with his desire to be a pilot since a young boy; saying he would read books about airplanes and aviation while in elementary school. “I wanted to know what controls were in the airplane and I would take clothespins and put them together and make planes. Sometimes I even used sawed off broomsticks to make planes.”
He spoke of times flying in turbulent weather and once even having to execute an emergency landing in 9-feet of water in the ocean just off the coast of Campeche, Mexico.
He stressed to the audience the importance of pilots not just being able to fly, but learning the terrain. “You have to learn the mountains and valleys and rivers so you can navigate them.”
Not being able to find a job because of the color of his skin, he began to volunteer for positions – even going so far as willingly offering to be a British pilot in 1938, but was once again turned down. Levister says he wrote to every airline in America and the result was the same-denial each time. He finally took a job as an aircraft mechanic, building helicopters. Soon after, he became a pilot for a Republic of Honduras Mahogany plywood manufacturer. He would spend many years in Honduras as a pilot for the Vice President of the Republic, for the Cabinet Ministers and the Department of Civil Aeronautics.
The CAPA’s fundraiser brought out many members of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen, including Marshall Knox, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for 50 years of flying. Knox, now 84 years old, has never had an aeronautical accident.
Kyla Harris of Air Force Academy High School and Darien Glover of Simeon Career Academy were this year’s scholarship winners. Both sophomores spoke of wanting to fly since they were young. Harris, 17, whose grandfather was a pilot for the Tuskegee airmen, says she has always been around aviation.
“My grandfather shared many stories and showed me lots of pictures from his days of flying and he had a big influence on me.”
Harris also attended a space and rocket camp in Huntsville, Ala., where young kids find out what it’s like to be an American fighter pilot and the skills required to do so. She is currently enrolled at the academic enhancement program to assist students with the study of science and engineering.
Glover, 17, recalls attending an air and water show as the main factor in his decision to become a pilot. “When I saw the planes flying through the sky, I thought to myself, I want to do that.”
He met Moses Jones (of the Tuskegee Airmen) at the Blackstone Library and talked to him about wanting to someday fly planes. Glover then attended the Young Eagles program in Gary, Ind., where they give interested youngsters the opportunity to go flying in an airplane. He is currently taking online courses to pursue his dream in aviation.
The recipients of the award received $500 to cover housing, meals and transportation at the EAA Summer Program. They will participate in classroom activities as well as fieldtrips on flying safety and orientation flights. They were also scheduled to visit Midway Airport’s control tower and attend The Osh Kosh Air Show.