Ray Kuhlman

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Joseph Raymond "Ray" Kuhlman (born ca. 1919 in Frostburg, Maryland, died October 15, 2003 in Kinston, North Carolina) was a pilot, businessman, and minor league baseball owner. Ray joined the military prior to World War II and graduated from a new program as a Flying Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in December 1941. Kuhlman was commissioned as a second lieutenant in October 1942 and spent the rest of the war as a member of the Military Air Transportation Service (MATS) with overseas tours in India, China, Italy, and France. In 1944, Ray flew a Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express, from the United States to India en route to China for duty on what was known as the Beebe Project, but his plane and nineteen other C-87s were appropriated by the Air Transport Command and kept in India to fly The Hump over the Himalayas for the ATC.

In 1946, Kuhlman became a commercial airline pilot with Capital Airlines, which later merged with United Airlines, where he was a senior Boeing 727 pilot until he retired on May 28, 1979. An early assignment as First Officer on a Pennsylvania Central Airlines DC-3 resulted in Kuhlman being among the crew that piloted the first commercial airliner into Wheeling-Ohio County Airport ("Stifel Field") at Wheeling, West Virginia on November 1, 1946. In 1996, Kuhlman and other surviving crew members attended 50th anniversary celebrations at the airport and a mural ("Inbound to Stifel") was commissioned for the main terminal lobby showing their DC-3 coming into Wheeling.

In 1978, one year prior to his retirement as an airline pilot, Kuhlman purchased a Carolina League baseball franchise and decided to locate it in Kinston, North Carolina. Kinston had been without a minor league team since the end of the 1974 season when their Kinston Expos folded following a disappointing year. Kuhlman and his wife, Ruth, ran the franchise together until Ray retired again in 1983. Kuhlman, at first, chose to name his unaffiliated team the Kinston Eagles, which was the traditional name for professional baseball teams in the city dating back to 1925, and he continued with that name even after the club signed on as an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979. The name of the team was finally changed to Kinston Blue Jays in 1982.

Kuhlman's manager during the 1978 campaign was Leo Mazzone, who went on to become a very successful pitching coach with the Atlanta Braves. Some would argue that Mazzone was the most successful pitching coach of all time with his pitching staffs being given much of the credit for fourteen straight division titles. Kuhlman was instrumental in Mazzone landing in the Braves organization. His contacts within the Braves organization and hearty endorsement were key factors leading to his acquisition by Atlanta.

Kinston's membership in the Carolina League was continuous from Kuhlman's purchase of the franchise in 1978 through 2011. The team was last called the Kinston Indians. Kuhlman was inducted into the Kinston Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Kuhlman died at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston on October 15, 2003 at the age of 84 and was buried at the Coastal Carolina State Veteran's Cemetery. Ray and his wife, Ruth, had been married for fifty-eight years. He was survived by a daughter, Patricia K. Murphey, and a son, David C. Kuhlman.

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