People & Stories Oral History Project: Johnnie Pantanelli

Colonel Johnnie Pantanelli knew two things when she graduated from Scarsdale High School in the early 1940s. First, she wanted to fly airplanes. Second, she liked driving motorcycles even though her mother and aunt tried to tell her riding was not a proper hobby for girls. As you will hear in this oral history, Johnnie (her given name is “Joan”) did not listen to anyone who tried to discourage her and charted a determined, adventurous course from an early age through her 90s.

Johnnie joined the Civil Air Patrol during World War II. The CAP is the official auxiliary of the US Air Force, and they conduct search-and-rescue missions. During WWII, Johnnie flew on CAP missions to spot German submarines along the coast between Connecticut and New Jersey. She has stayed involved since that time, training young people in search-and-rescue skills and encouraging many to become pilots. The Col. Johnnie Pantanelli Composite Squadron in Katonah meets every week, and Johnnie often attends the meetings.

In addition to her career as a pilot, Johnnie was an active member of motorcycle clubs and only gave up riding in her 80s. Her first motorcycle, an Indian, was given to her by a sports announcer named Bill Stern who lived in Harrison. She met her husband, John, while they were both building bomb-door parts for General Electric on Kensico Avenue during WWII. After the war ended, he got a job at shop called Paulding's on Grand Street in White Plains and they rode together throughout their marriage. They also owned a scaffolding company in New York City. Johnnie still goes to Queens two days a week to work with her son.


American Motorcycle, March 1957


American Motorcycle, December 1956

Categories: Oral History.


  1. Seth Pantanelli

    On January 14, 2023, Johnnie passed away at the age of 97, with her grand-daughter (Lia Barberis) by her side. She is survived by her son, John-Pierre Pantanelli, four grand-children (Seth Pantanelli, Lia Barberis, Michaelangelo Pantanelli, and Rafaello Pantanelli), and four great grand-children (Amelia and Gwen Pantanelli, Ariana and Preston Barberis).

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