2023 Hall of Fame Inductee-
John L. Parish, Sr.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of Vintage Airplane magazine.
EAA BOARD MEMBER EMERITUS John Parish Sr., EAA 43943, grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, just a few short blocks from a World War II B-24 base, and he was enamored by the aviation activities there, which triggered him to start taking flight lessons when he was in high school and complete them while attending Vanderbilt University. In 1964, John bought his first airplane, a Cherokee 180. Two years later he replaced the Cherokee with a Comanche 260 and then a Twin Comanche.
John’s aviation interest flourished into a lifetime of aviation and a passion to preserve its history. He began attending fly-ins across the country including the Antique Airplane Association (AAA) gathering in Ottumwa, Iowa. It was at the AAA event that John fell in love with a Beech Model 17 Staggerwing. He said it was the prettiest airplane he had ever seen, and his favorite color is red. The nickname for this G17S is Big Red, and John had the opportunity to purchase his dream airplane in 1970. His sons own it now.
The 1960s and ’70s were busy decades for John. Founder of the Parish Aerodrome with two grass strips adjacent to the Tullahoma Regional Airport, John, along with local aviation friends, hosted many fly-ins, calling them “happenings,” in Tullahoma. Pursuant to the many years of successful “happenings,” EAA partnered with John and his aviation colleagues to host an EAA regional fly-in that attracted as many as 35,000 people in 1979 and 1980.
Being a Staggerwing enthusiast, John became involved with the international Staggerwing Club. Every five years Beech Aircraft Corp. in Wichita would host the annual Staggerwing Fly-In. John made many aviation friends and had a great opportunity to become a friend of Mrs. O.A. Beech. In 1973 John’s vision to preserve the Staggerwing model came to fruition. His wife, Charlotte Parish, donated land to build and establish the Staggerwing Museum Foundation. John put his heart and soul into the project, and the museum that began as a two-room log cabin and hangar evolved into a 78,000-square-foot, fully climate-controlled world-class general aviation museum. It now does business as the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, exhibiting 38 unique aircraft dating from 1924 to present and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Mrs. Beech’s family is still involved with the museum today.
John’s aircraft ownership has included a variety of aircraft: a Travel Air 4000; Travel Air Mystery Ship; Waco RNF; five Staggerwings; a Stearman; J-3 Cub; a Cessna 206 on floats; and a Beechcraft Duke, Baron, and Bonanza that was bought for his corporate travel and later replaced with a King Air C90 that the family continues to use today. His three sons, Charles, Robert, and John Jr., had the pleasure of flying his 1952 twin-engine Beechcraft D18S to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023.
John’s leadership in the aviation community has included serving on the EAA board with specific interest in the VAA division for 30-plus years, and he had a leadership role as past director and vice president of the EAA Aviation Foundation. He was past president and vice president of the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission and a recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. John has contributed columns and has been recognized in many aviation publications such as Vintage Airplane and EAA Sport Aviation, Flying Magazine, National Geographic, AOPA, Barron’s, American Bonanza Society and King Air publications, Seaplane Pilots Association, General Aviation News, and the state of Tennessee and local media sources for his significant aviation contributions the past 60 years.
If you had the opportunity to come witness what John has built with his personal time, fundraising and generous donations, you would experience a first-class aviation museum and community in Tullahoma. A campus that welcomes visitors from all across the globe. A successful businessman and a Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame inductee whose hobby turned out to be a lifetime achievement in aviation. John’s passion to bring people together and his legacy will be perpetuated throughout generations of his personal, museum, and aviation community friends and family.