A regional aviation pioneer’s estate has presented Missouri Southern State University a $1 million gift that will 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.

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.

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.

“Mr. Harper exemplified lifelong support for Missouri Southern. His impact on students began with an endowed scholarship established in the mid-1970s,” said Greim. “That impact will now expand greatly thanks to this planned gift. We’re extremely grateful to the Harper family for including Missouri Southern in their estate plan.”