John Wesley Gwinn, beloved husband, father, and grandfather, passed away at The Brier Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Ronceverte, WV, on Friday, October 3, 2014.
John was born in Summers County, WV, on January 8, 1915.
John was born in Lockbridge, WV, and went on to graduate from West Virginia Wesleyan College with a B.S. in mathematics and physical education. After graduation from college, John taught school and coached high school football for three years and then served as principal for one year in Talcott, WV.
John entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private in 1942. Following OCS and air cadet training, he became a navigator on B-25s and flew 56 combat missions in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. He also served during the Korean conflict.
Later in his military career, he served as director of personnel for the Army Air Corps Exchange System – then the largest retailer in the world. He was a graduate of the Air War College and retired as a colonel in July 1964. His numerous military decorations include the Legion of Merit, two Air Medals, and the Air Force and Army Commendation Medals.
After returning to West Virginia, Colonel Gwinn was approached by a group of business and civic leaders about the possibility of constructing a commercial airport in Greenbrier County. Gwinn agreed to head the effort and obtained FAA agreement for $1 million in financial support. He also obtained $200,000 from then West Virginia Governor Smith, $385,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission, and $400,000 from a revenue bond issue by personally selling many of the bonds to local investors.
Construction of the Greenbrier Valley Airport began on July 2, 1966, with the airport opening for business on June 5, 1968. The airport had a 6,000-foot runway and a 300-foot by 500-foot parking ramp. Initial operations were conducted out of a trailer because there were no buildings. Over the next 25 years, Gwinn used profits from fuel sales, rent, and landing fees together with FAA funding to complete a capital improvement project each year. Upon his retirement, the airport was valued at over $18 million, with no outstanding debt. It included numerous hangars, an air traffic control tower, an industrial park, a large terminal building, and a 7,004-foot runway – the longest in West Virginia.
In 1993, Gwinn was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the American Association of Airport Executives for his more than 25 years of service to the U.S. Air Transportation System.
Gwinn was active in many community activities. He was president of the PTA and Little League, president and district governor of Rotary, president of the chamber of commerce, chairman of the Bluefield State College Advisory Board, and a member of the Lewisburg City Council. John and his wife, Ruth, were philanthropic in nature and can be associated with many of the schools, charities, and benefits in the community. John and Ruth were honored by the Shepherd’s Center in 2009 with a Community Service Award. A movie, “The Long Runway Home,” was produced chronicling their lives.
He was predeceased by his wife, Ruth Tolley Gwinn; his father, Cornelius B. Gwinn; his mother, Golda Ramsey Gwinn; and his oldest child, John W. Gwinn Jr.
He leaves to cherish his memory this three living children, Johnna Gwinn (Bob) of Westchester, PA, Michael Gwinn (Kelly) of Yorktown, VA, and Geoffrey Gwinn (Shannon) of Little Rock, AR; two grandsons, 1 Lt. Michael Tolley Gwinn, an infantry officer stationed at Fort Campbell, KY, and 7-year-old Andrew Christopher Gwinn, son of Geoffrey and Shannon.
Visitation will be from 6-8 PM on Thursday, October 9, 2014, at McCraw Funeral Home in Lewisburg, WV.
A celebration of his life will be held at Lewisburg United Methodist Church on Friday, October 10, at 1 PM. The celebration of John’s life will continue at the Lewisburg Elks Country Club immediately following the memorial service.
He will be buried at a later date alongside his wife, Ruth, and son, Johnny, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Colonel Gwinn’s family wishes to thank the many family and friends who have given comfort and support during this very difficult time. A special thank you to Carroll and Francis Crane who were always a phone call away, the many good neighbors on Longview Avenue, and to Dr. Connie Anderson, who has been with us on this journey with both Mom and Dad, and finally, a heartfelt thank you to Shorty Phillips and the staff at The Brier Rehabilitation & Nursing Center who were so compassionate and caring during his difficult time.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, a memorial donation be made to the Shepherd’s Center or a charity of choice.
McCraw Funeral Home in Lewisburg is in charge of arrangements.
Obituary originally published in the October 6, 2014, edition of the West Virginia Daily News.