George K. Otis Sr., 90; millionaire turned radio evangelist

George K. Otis Sr., who founded High Adventure Ministries, a Simi Valley-based Christian organization best known for operating what was probably the first radio station in the Middle East to preach the Gospel and play country music, has died. He was 90.

Otis, a former aerospace executive, died in his sleep Sunday at his home in Murrieta, his family announced. A cause of death was not given.

The first radio station that broadcast under the ministry’s Voice of Hope banner was established in 1979 on a battlefield in southern Lebanon. Several hours of religious programming were kicked off by a few minutes of twangy bluegrass — an Otis touch.

“It’s crazy, and people wonder what the heck it is,” Otis said of the programming mix in a 1997 Times story.

The evangelical Voice of Hope has since expanded beyond the Middle East and can be heard via shortwave radio on almost every continent.

Otis once described himself as a “charismatic-flavored Presbyterian” and said he felt the need to make a difference after becoming a millionaire before he turned 35 in 1952.

“He got to the top and said, ‘Is this all there is?’ He wanted to focus the rest of his life on helping other people and encouraging interest in faith,” said his daughter April Otis McCallum.

High Adventure Ministries has rebuilt hospitals in the Middle East and brought in ambulances, food and medicine.

Otis wrote or collaborated on a dozen books published by the ministry, including his life story, “High Adventure,” and “The Guns of God,” which is described as a manual on how to wage spiritual warfare against evil.

George Kay Otis was born April 20, 1917, in Payne, Ohio, to a dentist and his homemaker wife. An adventure-seeker from a young age, Otis was in ninth grade when he rode a motorcycle to Cape Cod so he could see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

After taking business classes at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., he founded a number of electronics-related companies and was an executive at several others. Otis was general manager of the Lear Corp. when he met his future wife after she applied for an administrative position.

He credited Virginia, his wife of nearly 55 years, with influencing him to live a faith-based life.

“Basically, the Lord washed into me and he didn’t wash out,” Otis said in the 1997 story.

Interviewed in 1988 in his ministry office, then in Northridge, he sat beneath a framed AK-47 assault rifle that had been captured from a Palestinian terrorist. Tanned and silver-haired, the energetic Otis wore cowboy boots and pressed khaki pants, and drank coffee from a mug that said “Expect a Miracle.”

In addition to his wife and daughter April, Otis is survived by sons George Jr. and Don; daughters Kay Smith and Heather Tayloe; 17 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Church on the Way, East Campus, 14300 Sherman Way, Van Nuys.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday July 27, 2007.
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