Once upon a time, Moose Jaw’s Lyle Johnson wanted to soar high like a bird.
“I decided I was going to learn how to fly,” he said, adding he started his airborne pastime in 1986. Since then, Johnson has attained certain fame within the amateur aviation realm as well.
Flying his Challenger II Flip-Wing Special ultra-light aircraft, painted in honour of the Moose Jaw-based Snowbirds Squadron and affectionately called ‘Slowbird,’ Johnson set the distance record for his type of plane when he flew from Moose Jaw to Brandon, and back again, in 1996.
“The biggest problem with setting a record is the paper work,” he said, adding in 1998 he then set the speed record for his type of plane for various distances ranging from one kilometre to 100 km.
“So it was quite a milestone,” Heritage Moose Jaw president Brian Bell told the Times-Herald. However, Bell said this aviation achievement is just one of the reasons Johnson is being recognized with the 2012 Moose Jaw Honours Award.
This year’s award presentation is on April 26, at 7:30 p.m., at the theatre connected to Moose Jaw Public Library and Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery. Bell said the event, which is held in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Festival of Words launch, is open to the public and free of charge.
According to Bell, the Moose Jaw Honours Award dates back to 1999, when the late Gary Hyland was reading about the annual Al Miller Dinner in New York City aimed at recognizing those who do good in that community.
Bell said Hyland then read an article about an important community-building personality from Moose Jaw’s past in a Times-Herald column by Leith Knight and, eureka, the idea for the Moose Jaw Honours Award was conceived.
“If it was good enough for New York, it was good enough for Moose Jaw,” Bell said.
Hyland approached Heritage Moose Jaw to conduct the research into the Moose Javians past and present who would be considered for the award and, ever since, it has been an annual celebration in the Friendly City.
Aside from the whole Slowbird story, Bell said Johnson was considered for this year’s award due to his years of leadership service as a drama teacher and high school coach.
“He was always there and always available for the students,” Bell said, adding Johnson is also being recognized for work as a Canadian Forces reservist — where he served through leadership with local army cadets.
Johnson said he joined the Moose Jaw Schools Cadet Core in 1964, serving with that organization until age 19. He then became an officer and remained a cadet instructor for over 40 years.
“So it has been a big part of my life,” he said. Johnson is 62 years old and intends to continue working with the core until he “ages out” at 65.
Last year, Johnson also retired after 40 years teaching drama at Peacock Collegiate Institute. During that time, he produced approximately 80 stage shows and Johnson is still active in drama as chairman of the Saskatchewan Drama Association. He said directing performances is something he still intends to do in his future as well.
Johnson is also a regular fixture on local cable TV as host of Moose Jaw This Week on Shaw TV.
However, despite his extensive life experience as a TV personality, school teacher, dramatic arts supporter, army cadet leader and aviation record-setter, Johnson said he was both surprised and humbled to learn he would be the recipient of the prestigious Moose Jaw Honours Award this year.
“It just kind of blew me away,” he said, adding it is a real honour to be included amongst the elite crew of previous award recipients.
Carter Haydu can be reached at 691-1265.