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Resident’s fascination with flight sustained an eight-decade hobby

John Eli built model planes until the age of 89.

“He started building model airplanes when he was 8 years old, and his dad told him he was wasting his money,” said his wife Jean Eli. “He’s been building them ever since.”

World War II formed part of the backdrop to John’s childhood. He was fascinated by airplanes and wanted to be a pilot. Instead, he channeled that interest into a lifelong passion, building hundreds of model planes of different sizes.

His hobby made him happy, he said.

Before the Elis moved to Parsons Presbyterian Manor in April, John sold or donated all but three of the models in his collection. He gave some 50 small models to the Coffeyville Aviation Heritage Museum, and a collector bought the rest.

Although John never piloted a plane, he had a varied and fascinating career. He served in the military during the Korean War, though he was stationed in Germany. After earning his Master of Education, John taught at Missouri Southern for 10 years. He went on to create a bachelor’s degree completion program at Westmar University in Iowa.

John shifted gears when became a sales engineer for John Deere, but that wasn’t entirely new territory for him.

“He’s always been involved in something to do with motors,” including car racing when he was younger, Jean said.

He also enjoyed skeet shooting, hunting and fishing. He and Jean were active in the church, and John helped build the Methodist church in Alma, Kansas, where they lived for more than 40 years.

“John has a brilliant mind, and he still does,” Jean said. “He’s always been interested in everything.”

She and John have been married for 65 years — one of the other constants in his life. The hobby kept him out of trouble, he said, so it may have contributed to the longevity of Elis’ relationship.

“(Model airplanes) have given me a life of enjoyment,” John said. “And they kept me from drinking and doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.”

Jean says that’s exactly right.

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