A comment from Col. Darin Ninness when he was only 14 explains much about his commitment to Civil Air Patrol and why people still admire him for his service all these years later.
That’s how old Ninness was in 1981 when he learned about CAP and decided to join. He told his dad about his decision. Much to the young man’s surprise, his father said that he, too, had been a cadet in the late 1950s.
“Hey, could you have told me?” he asked in amazement. “I could have been doing this earlier!”
That fervor has never waned for Ninness, who ended his 3½-year tenure as commander of the New Hampshire Wing in October. And it played a part in inspiring an admirer to establish the Col. Darin Ninness New Hampshire Wing Endowment.
His leadership skills and a dedication to others earned Ninness that honor.
“He not only advocates servant leadership, he practices it,” the anonymous donor said.
The initial endowment of $30,000 will provide approximately $1,000 annually. The donor hopes others will contribute to grow the unrestricted fund, which will be used to enhance the New Hampshire Wing. 3
Col. Rajesh U. Kothari, chair of the CAP Foundation, which will manage the fund, was thrilled and appreciative.
“A legacy gift such as this is so appropriately named for someone that has given to CAP and its members as a cadet and senior member,” Kothari said. “The CAP Foundation is excited to be stewards of this gift and Col. Ninness’ success.”
Kristina E. Jones, chief of philanthropy for CAP, praised the anonymous donor’s generosity.
“This gift is not just an investment in the future of New Hampshire Wing,” Jones said, “but a remarkable gift by the donor, which exemplifies their deep commitment to philanthropy.”
While the wing finance committee will determine how best to use the funds annually, Ninness envisions a variety of uses for the endowment. Distributions could be used to help defray expenses for adult members and cadets attending out-of-town events.
“That’s an example of an opportunity to make an impact at our local communities and the Granite State at a large scale,” he said.
Ninness grew up in Michigan and moved to New Hampshire in 1998. He and his wife, Emily, live in Manchester. In addition to his CAP involvement, Ninness spent 10 years in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard, serving as a helicopter crew chief and flight engineer.
In CAP, Ninness has held “darn near every position,” including working with cadet programs, emergency services, logistics, public affairs, and recruiting and commanding at the squadron and wing levels.
“I’ve been a squadron commander six times in two wings,” Ninness said. “I like to joke that it took me three times to get it right.”
The achievements he has accumulated tell a different story. He’s a quick study and easily rose through the ranks of CAP, including five years national director of recruitment and retention starting in 2015. The donor who established the fund in his honor praised Ninness’ leadership skills and his devotion to servant leadership.
“He routinely puts CAP and others ahead of himself,” the donor said. “This applies even — or perhaps especially — to little things.”
Ninness’ many years in Civil Air Patrol and the military help explain his attention to detail and insistence on perfection. As a youngster, he was drawn to space, airplanes, and the military, which led to his discovery of Civil Air Patrol.
Today, in addition to CAP duties, he is a U.S. Parachute Association Accelerated Freefall instructor and a freefall coach, a field where attention to detail and perfection are absolutely critical.
Ninness was stunned to learn an endowment fund had been created in his name. He was pleased to see Jones, the philanthropy chief at the New Hampshire Wing Conference and change-of-command ceremony in October but had no clue she was setting up the endowment fund.
“It’s not too often I’m rendered speechless,” Ninness said, “but this was one of those times.”
Establishment of the fund with his name on it tells Ninness he must be doing something right. A commander’s job is a balancing act, requiring decisions that affect not only those directly under his command but also Civil Air Patrol as a whole. Choices carried out at that level aren’t always well received.
“I joke that when you make a big decision as a commander,” Ninness said, “75% of the people love it, and 50% of the people hate it.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to know you’re doing the right thing,” he said, “and that the membership appreciates and accepts the changes and decisions you’re making.”
Obviously, CAP members appreciate Ninness’ leadership and commitment to those under him. The anonymous donor who made the Col. Darin Ninness New Hampshire Wing Endowment possible said he expects the fund will serve as a long-term reminder of Ninness’ contribution to the New Hampshire Wing and his values and actions.
“I hope the money from the fund will make it possible for the New Hampshire Wing to achieve the excellence Col. Ninness challenged us to pursue,” he said.
Civil Air Patrol recognizes National Philanthropy Day, Nov. 15, with this profile of Col. Darin Ninness, former New Hampshire Wing commander, in whose honor an anonymous donor has established a $30,000 endowment to benefit the wing.