NORTH PLATTE -- Vinton Jones was born on June 14, 1921, at his parents' home in Southwest Chase County. He was the second son of Arda and Grace (Williams) Jones. He departed this life on January 20, 2006, in North Platte, at the age of 84.
Vinton was baptized at an early age at the Crete Church in Chase County. He became a member of the United Methodist Church of Benkelman and transferred this membership as they moved to McCook and North Platte.
Vinton and his brother, Irvin grew up in a small two room house located on property that their parents had homesteaded. He spent many hours with his dog and horse hunting for game to bring home for the table. His early education was at District 55, a country one-room school, which was a six mile horseback ride. His eighth grade year, he purchased a Ford Model-T for $25, which allowed him to drive and give fellow students rides to school. The first year of high school, he traded his Model-T for a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He attended high school in Imperial where he graduated in 1939.
After high school, he attended flying school in Lincoln where he graduated in the fall of 1939. In December he purchased his first airplane, an Aeronica K-40 hp, which became the first airplane owned in Chase County. This was just the first of many airplanes that Vinton enjoyed over the years, whether working or playing. He was an early entrepreneur when it came to doing something with an airplane.
Unable to find a good instructor's position in the United States, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. On that fateful day in December 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day), he struck out for Omaha to take a check ride. Upon arrival, he was told all planes were grounded and his talents could best be used in the U.S. to train young pilots.
In July 1942, he was sent to Thunderbird Field near Phoenix, Ariz., as an Army Air Corps Flight Instructor. At 21, he was the youngest instructor in the West Coast Command where he taught Army Air Corps pilots. He also instructed several Chinese, who became leaders in the Chinese Air Force. During this time he met Mildred "Millie" Yancy of Glendale, Ariz., and they were married on Dec. 25, 1942. Their first son, Ronald Vinton was born in 1944.
Vinton was inducted into the Army Air Corps Reserve and transferred to Air Transport Command in Kansas City, Mo., in 1945, where he served as a pilot for Trans Continental & Western Air (TWA -- Trans World Airlines when Word War II ended).
In February 1946, Vinton leased the airport in Phillipsburg, Kan., training students, flying charter, repairing aircraft. Times were tough and to make ends meet he contracted with area ranchers to hunt coyotes. Here, their second son, Stanley Arden, was born in 1947.
In August 1947, he started a GI flying school, which was the first one in Western Kansas authorized to give commercial flight training courses. Phillipsburg is where he did his first aerial spraying in 1948 with a 65 hp J-3 Cub. He started flying at air shows as an aerobatic pilot and developed a clown act. This act was performed at an air show in Benkelman in September 1948, which was attended by a crowd of 12,000 spectators, according to the newspaper article of the event.
In 1950, Vinton and Millie moved their sons and aerial spraying business to the airport on Balderson property north of Benkelman. In 1950-51, during the Korean War, Vinton returned to the service as a civilian flying instructor in Greenville, Miss. He was instructing in T-6s which became his favorite airplane. Before Millie could join him, their daughter, Jana Kay, was born at Benkelman in 1951.
Upon his return in 1951, Vinton formed Top Hat Flying Service and the "top hat" logo was born. In 1953, after a fire burned his main hangar, Vinton purchased the Grigsby land northwest of Benkelman, moved two hangars and built an airport that is still at the location.
Vinton taught both boys to fly, and they followed him in the aerial spraying business. It was a proud time for him when the three of them were spraying a field together, one following the other.
He started farming and ranching his parents' home place in Chase County, developing irrigated farm land. He was proud of his Hereford cow herd and enjoyed working them with a good horse. He always had horses (and once a herd of ponies) and started the kids riding as soon as they could hang on. Vinton's love of horses and dogs has been passed down to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He continued to fly and ranch until 1980, then his health forced him to retire from the spraying business. His sons took over the business, Stan at the Benkelman airport and Ron at Imperial. In retirement years Vinton loved to hunt and fish. He enjoyed those special times when he was able to share these hobbies with a child, grandchild or great-grandchild. A strong supporter of gun rights, he became passionate about the Second Amendment and his gun collection. During retirement he and Millie lived in McCook; Phoenix; and North Platte. Vinton could always find a good coffee place to trade stories and make friends.
His beliefs led him to become a member in many organizations. He was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, member and charter founder of the Second Amendment Task Force, lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club, lifetime member of Harley Davidson Owners, 50 year member of Masonic Lodge No. 180, 50 year member of Order of Eastern Star Holly Chapter 233, 32nd Degree Scottish Rite, member of Tehama Shrine Club, lifetime member of American Legion, lifetime member of the Elks Club, honorary life member of the NATA -- Nebraska Aviation Trades Association and past vice president of National Aerial Applicator Association. An honor that Vinton appreciated and enjoyed most was the Smoky Bear Award given to him for his efforts as a Pioneer of Fire Fighting by air. Their first award of this kind.
Vinton was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, Irvin Jones and wife, Georgia.
He is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Millie of North Platte; two sons, Ron Jones and wife, Donna of Harrison; Stan Jones and wife, Phyllis of Benkelman; a daughter, Jana Mintling and husband, Riley of Wauneta; six grandchildren; ten great-grandchildren; several nieces and nephews; and numerous family and friends.
Visitation was Monday, Jan. 23, 2006, at Forch Funeral Chapel in Benkelman.
Funeral services were today, Jan. 24, 2006, at 10:30 a.m. (MT), at the Benkelman United Methodist Church with Rev. Brian Fong officiating. Interment with military honors followed services at the Benkelman Cemetery.
Arrangements are under the direction of Forch Funeral Chapel of Benkelman. Condolences may be left online at www.forch.com.