Tuskegee Airman’s legacy lives on at Farnsworth Aerospace


After hearing about the Col. Kenneth Wofford mural at Farnsworth Upper Campus, LaVone Kay, center, from the CAF Red Tail Squadron, contacted upper campus Principal Hamilton Bell, left, about donating Wofford’s uniform to be on display at the school. Keith Baker, right, was a family friend of Wofford’s and took care of the uniform after the Wofford family donated it to the CAF Red Tail Squadron. Wofford was a Tuskegee Airman who flew missions in the Korean and Vietnam wars; in his post-U.S. Airforce life he visited Farnsworth many times and interacted with students. Marjorie Otto/Review

Uniform donated to honor late pilot

Following the donation of a mural honoring the late Tuskegee Airman Col. Kenneth Wofford a few weeks ago, Farnsworth Aerospace school’s upper campus will also house Wofford’s U.S. Air Force uniform.

The uniform, which was donated by Wofford’s family to the CAF Red Tail Squadron, made its way to Farnsworth after the CAF Red Tail Squadron heard about the mural. The squadron, which has an office in Red Wing, is a national non-profit run by the Commemorative Air Force dedicated to the mission of educating about the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen, which got their name from the air base outside of Tuskegee, Alabama, were the all African-American Army Air Corp program consisting of pilots, maintenance workers, nurses and other staff. Before 1940, African-Americans were not allowed to fly for the U.S. military. 

Due to civil rights pressures, the all African-American squadron, also known as the Red Tails due to the red-painted tails on their P-51 Mustang planes, was formed in 1941. The Tuskegee Airmen flew many missions during World War II. 

Wofford, who was born in Oklahoma and raised in Missouri, did not fly in the second world war — it ended just before he was about to be shipped out to conduct missions near Japan.

He later flew missions during the Korean and Vietnam wars. After 32 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, Wofford settled in the Twin Cities and worked at the Minnesota Department of Transportation as a manager in the Department of Aeronautics.

“Col. Wofford was very involved and supportive of the Red Tail Squadron in our educational outreach program,” said LaVone Kay, marketing director for CAF Red Tail Squadron. She said he was very instrumental in helping develop educational materials that are made available to educators and schools for free.

“We miss him” she said.

In addition to free education materials, the CAF Red Tail Squadron, which originated in Minnesota, restored a rare P-51C Mustang, which travels across the country to educate people about the Tuskegee Airmen. The organization also created a traveling exhibit and documentary called “Rise Above,” which features Wofford. 

“When he passed, his family wanted the Red Tail Squadron to have his uniform,” Kay said.

 

A new home 

Farnsworth Aerospace School, a pre-K through eighth grade school in the St. Paul school district, which focuses on aerospace and engineering, had been visited by Wofford many times over the years. 

He would often have lunch with students, speak to them about his career in aerospace and emphasize the importance of education.

Kay said when she contacted his family about donating Wofford’s uniform to the school, “they were ecstatic.”

“We are very, very happy that the Tuskegee Airman mural — in honor of my father — and his uniform have been placed on display at the Farnsworth Schools,” said Wofford’s son, Kenneth O. Wofford Jr. “Speaking at schools — and there were many — was mutually beneficial: it brought wisdom and inspiration to the students and joy to my dad.”

Wofford Jr. added, “We hope that through having the mural and his uniform at Farnsworth it will continue his influence on many more generations”

With the family on board, Kay reached out to Keith Baker, who had been holding on to Wofford’s uniform since it was donated to the CAF Red Tail Squadron, and he was excited as well.

Baker’s mother and Wofford had been close friends.

“I remember as a kid he’d come in and he’d be dressed to a ‘T,’ in his more formal Air Force outfits,” Baker said, pointing out seeing such a “stately man” left a strong impact on him.

Baker, who used to work for the Minnesota Department of Transportation leading the African American Resource Group, lead the coordination of the honoring of Minnesota Tuskegee Airmen for the state of Minnesota a few years ago.

The event included a proclamation by the governor’s office and an event at the state capitol with the “Rise Above” exhibit.

On June 7, Kay and Baker presented Farnsworth Upper Campus Principal Hamilton Bell with the uniform. 

“We really hope the students understand the legacy of Col. Wofford and the Airmen and that as they look at this wonderful mural and the uniform that it triggers questions,” Kay said. “We’re just excited.”

“First of all,” Bell said, “I’m honored that the family felt the uniform’s in good hands [at Farnsworth].”

“Second of all,” he continued, “it tells a number of our African-American males that ... if you’re a person of honesty and integrity and you work hard, opportunities will be afforded to you. It may not be when you want them too, but when those opportunities do come, you’ll be ready for the challenges.”

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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