In Remembrance of Zionsville’s Elizabeth Wiest Johnson
Publisher’s Note: I felt compelled to share a story about my first meeting with Liz Johnson. We met at the office on Wild Air Farms in 2013 to do an interview. Well into her 80’s at that time, she had just flown in from California earlier that day but was willing to sit down for the interview late one beautiful summer afternoon that ran in to early evening. I was captivated for over two hours by the stories she shared of her life and of a special time gone by. As it was time to go, I asked if there was someone picking her up
or could I give her a ride. She smiled and said that wasn’t necessary as she donned a big floppy hat, dropped her cane in the back seat of her Jaguar convertible and headed down the road. It was an experience I will never forget. What an amazing woman! -Neil Lucas
One of Zionsville’s most gracious and accomplished residents has passed away on April 30, 2022, at the age of 94. Mrs. Elizabeth “Liz” Wiest Johnson was the owner of Wild Air Farms and was a passionate equestrian who devoted her life to “hunting and showing and loved it all.” Johnson’s philanthropic contributions to the community—specifically to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis—are worthy of being mentioned and remembered in this issue of Zionsville Monthly as a tribute to an extraordinary woman who impacted our Zionsville community.
In August of 2013, Johnson was featured on the cover of Zionsville Monthly, and subsequent articles–in this publication–featured Johnson’s beloved Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show (TPHCHS) on numerous occasions.
I had the extreme honor of volunteering for the Johnson family and served on the TPHCHS committee as the publicity chair in the final years of the nationally renowned six-day, four-ring show that ran for nearly four decades and generated more than $1 million to charities from its inception.
I thought it prudent to pay my respects to this remarkable lady and highlight the vast number of accomplishments and contributions that Johnson achieved that benefited Zionsville, Boone County, the state of Indiana and the equestrian world.
A Woman of Impeccable Taste and Many Talents
Born to the late Edward Hubbard Wiest and Marguerite Anna Jackson Wiest on April 10, 1928, Johnson was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Johnson attended Public School 84, Shortridge High School her freshman year and graduated from Tudor Hall High School in 1946.
At age 18, Johnson launched her career as a competitive rider, entering her first horse show in Devon, Pennsylvania, and placing 4th out of 68 horses in the Working Hunter Stake. It was just one of her many accomplishments in the show ring over the years.
Johnson married Sylvester Johnson, Jr., on Oct. 31, 1948. She and Sylvester raised and bred thoroughbred racehorses, and it was Liz Johnson who trained them to go to the racetrack. She won a race at the Royalton Steeplechase in 1976. She won firsts in the Royal Winter Horse Show at Toronto, Canada, and at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Johnson rode with Wilson Dennehy and George Caulkins at Madison Square Garden, winning the Hunter Team Class in 1966.
In 1996, at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, Johnson was awarded a prestigious Living Legend Award.
Throughout the years, Johnson won countless championships and owned 38 horses, many of them well known. On May 29, 2012, Johnson’s horse “Super Flash” was inducted into the Merion Cricket Club Hall of Fame in Haverford, Pennsylvania. She rode him in the Amateur Owner Hunter Division. And on May 26, 2015, Johnson herself was inducted into the Merion Cricket Club Hall of Fame.
Johnson was prominently featured in Town and Country Magazine’s August 1951 edition spotlighting Indianapolis and again in its August 1980 issue. She also appeared on the cover of the Jan. 21, 1957 issue of Sports Illustrated, roller-skating at the George Lyons estate in Bimini, Florida. Johnson was an avid skier who received her ski instructor’s license in Aspen. She skied competitively in races in Aspen and Vail, winning gold, silver and bronze medals. She was also captain of her bowling team and won the Ladies’ Singles Tennis Tournament in 1960 at Woodstock Club.
Is This Heaven? No, It’s Wild Air Farms
I can recall the first time I drove up the long gravel road off of Hunt Club Road to the top of the drive and cast my eyes upon the 250 acres of pristine land on which the horse-show grounds are located. Wild Air Farms is the most astonishing nature preserve and show grounds in Indiana, in my opinion. Those of us who spent any measurable amount of time on these grounds have experienced some of the best views in Zionsville—comparable to some of the most esteemed horse farms in Lexington, Kentucky.
Johnson founded the Traders Point Hunt Charity Horse Show in 1977 and chaired it until she and her family decided to close that particular chapter of their lives.
TPHCHS began as a small two-ring, three-day country show and quickly grew into one of the most prestigious sanctioned horse shows recognized by the American Horse Show Association.
At its peak, TPHCHS drew in over 10,000 spectators and hosted more than 1,000 of the top horses and equestrians from the United States, Canada and Europe. TPHCHS also featured the top grand prix and hunter/jumper riders from across the country. The Chronicle of the Horse, a leader in horse-show publications, ranked it as one of the five best shows in America. The event’s proceeds supported Riley Hospital for Children.
Wild Air Farms has been the site of the Indianapolis Symphony’s “Symphony at Wild Air Farms,” the annual Traders Point Hunt Cyclocross Bike Race and the Crows’ Nest Skeet Club, of which Johnson was an honorary member.
As a member of Traders Point Hunt Club, Johnson hunted the hounds as Huntsman at Traders Point Hunt for many years and was awarded her Master Fox Hound colors in 1948 by MFH Cornelius O. Alig, Sr. Since then, she has assumed every field and staff position at one time or another and was elected Master of Foxhounds at TPH in 1983.
Johnson was always proud to say, “We’ve never killed a fox. Ours is a ‘drag hunt,’ where the scent of the fox is laid by the drag boy and the hunt across the land is planned ahead.” Johnson was in charge of the registered Midwest Hunts when she was on the board of the Master of Fox Hounds (MFH) for six years.
A Legacy for the Ages
Johnson served the community as a member of the Indianapolis Garden Club, the Junior League of Indianapolis, the Christamore Aid Society and the Christamore House Guild, for whom she performed as a Rockette in its fundraiser at the Murat Temple each year it was held. She was an honorary member of the Indianapolis Athletic Club. She was also a member of the Indianapolis Dramatic Club and Lambs Club.
Johnson received The Sagamore of the Wabash from Gov. Frank O’Bannon on Dec. 14, 2002. On April 30, 2010, she received the Park Tudor School Distinguished Alumni Award, recognizing alumni who have made substantial contributions to their communities. Johnson also received the United States Equestrian Federation Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the sport and the support she has given to literally thousands of riders through the years.
I can attest that Mrs. Elizabeth Wiest Johnson will be greatly missed by all who knew her and were impacted by her generosity and passion for community—especially the equestrian community. It is my hope that her memory is honored and never forgotten here in Zionsville. And I hope that the stories about TPHCHS in its full glory—the majesty of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales that presented there, the live national coverage by ESPN, the exceptional country market that took place on-site, the Friday evening and Sunday morning grand prix that brought in people of distinction and the magnificent horses and riders that showed there—are preserved and shared so that the current and future generations of Zionsville residents understand the greatness that once took place on these grounds. And more importantly, so that locals can learn about the inspiring and extraordinary woman Mrs. Elizabeth Wiest Johnson was.
Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli, a resident of Zionsville, member of the TPHC and former TPHCHS Committee member, shared his thoughts on the life and passing of Johnson.
“Mrs. ‘Liz’ Johnson choreographed her life around horses and equestrians,” Santelli shared. “Liz was a very humble woman who brought so much to Indiana. Her farms were a tribute to ecology, diversity and the equestrian sports.”
Santelli concluded, “Liz herself was such a great gift to our area, with so many memories traversing across a great spectrum of history. She made the world—and Zionsville—a better place.”