WICHITA, KAN. – Philanthropist Velma Wallace, 95, wife of the late Dwayne L. Wallace who guided Cessna Aircraft Company for more than 40 years, died July 8, 2012. Wallace represented the last of Wichita’s early aviation pioneer families.
Wallace was born Velma Lunt on May 16, 1917 and grew up on her parents’ dairy farm in what is now north Wichita. She was active in 4-H and would tell people the farm youth organization helped shape her, teaching her basic public speaking, organization and record-keeping skills. She was a graduate of North High School and Wichita Business College.
In 1937, Wallace applied for a job at a tiny aviation company struggling through the Depression, Cessna Aircraft Co. She was hired as the executive secretary for Dwayne Wallace. His uncle, Clyde Cessna, founded the company. And when it went into bankruptcy, the two Wallace brothers, Dwayne and Dwight, along with Velma Lunt, worked to build the company back up.
A courtship began between Miss Lunt and Dwayne Wallace. They married in 1941 and had four daughters. Velma Wallace learned to fly and obtained both single and multi-engine ratings.
Dwayne Wallace led Cessna from its infancy in 1934 through 1975. He died in 1989.
A year out of the University of Wichita, with an aeronautical engineering degree and brief experience working for Walter Beech, Wallace persuaded his uncle to reorganize Cessna and make him general manager in 1934 at the age of 23. Two years later Clyde Cessna retired and Wallace became president, a post he held until 1964 when he became chairman. He retired in 1975, but continued to serve on the board until 1983. He picked Russ Meyer to be his successor.