Alumni couple's legacy helps student dreams take flight
Buckeye Warner Wilson was a self-made man who overcame adversity to achieve his dreams, but he never forgot the good Samaritans who helped him on his path to success. A planned gift made in his and his wife’s honor is fulfilling the couple’s wishes to ensure others have the same opportunity to pay forward.
The Warner and Mickey Wilson Endowed Fund will provide financial support to a student in the Center for Aviation Studies who has overcome a hardship during his or her lifetime. A portion of the fund will also improve access to children’s aviation summer camps.
Daughter Marie and son Nathan remember aviation and education as the threads of their parents’ life story.
“Dad was a self-made man, but he felt he had a good life largely because other people believed in him and helped him,” said Marie. “That’s why he wanted to do this—to help others who may need to know that someone believes in them and is willing to invest in them.”
Tragically orphaned early in life, Warner endured a childhood that could have easily broken many. He grew up in foster care – poor and alone – but found solace at his local library after school. It was there that he developed his fascination with airplanes, reading every book he could find on aviation.
At the age of 18 with just 68 cents to his name, he landed a job at a plant that built planes, eventually learning to fly them. He trained pilots during WWII and later, after earning a bachelor’s from Ohio State through the GI Bill, he worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, rising in the ranks to become chief contracting officer of the F-111 Project.
His wife, Mickey, was equally passionate about education and learning. A woman ahead of her time, the trailblazer earned degrees in microbiology from Ohio State in the 1940s, and enjoyed a successful career as a teacher and microbiologist.
The couple met and fell in love at Ohio State during a United Service Organizations (USO) dance when Warner was still in the service. Because of this, they knew they wanted to support other Buckeyes who struggled to overcome obstacles and shared a similar passion for planes.
With their scholarship, inaugural recipient Junn Shimizu can now make his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot a reality.
“I knew I wanted to become a pilot when I took a Young Eagles flight. It was the first time I flew in a small airplane and I was instantly hooked,” said the aviation studies junior from Lexington, Ohio.
Like Warner, Junn was able to turn tragedy into triumph. As a child in his native Japan, he endured two surgeries and months of painful rehabilitation to correct a congenital hip deformity that endangered his ability to walk. But worse was the bullying he faced from the other children in his hospital room simply because he could speak English.
“Eventually I learned to block out their attacks. It helped make me a positive and outgoing person willing to take on anything to achieve my goals,” said Junn. “Receiving this scholarship has given me a confidence boost in my ability to continue my education at Ohio State.”
In addition to the scholarship support, the Wilsons wanted to help more young people develop a love for aviation early in life, just like Warner and Junn did. Their fund will help middle and high school students attend aviation summer camps in hopes that more choose the field as a career.
“Nathan and I are so happy to be honoring our parents in this way and fulfill their wishes,” said Marie. “We loved them both very much and this is a way to keep on loving them.”
This story was originally published in the 2016-2017 issue of Forward, the College of Engineering's giving impact report. Read more giving stories and the full report online.