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ChapterGram: June 2013

Chapter 704 Pays It Forward to a Longtime Member and Mentor


Larry's Hanger Project

Larry's Hanger Project

By Jeff Ostrander

Larry Bauer, EAA 350205, received quite a surprise on Sunday, May 19. A longtime member of EAA Chapter 704 in Sparta, Michigan, Larry is recognized as one of the area's finest pilots and mechanics. His bright, yellow Super Cub floatplane is a frequent visitor on local lakes; Larry probably has introduced more people - pilots and nonpilots - to the joy of floatplanes than anyone in lower Michigan, and that was one reason for the surprise. His knowledge and talent as an A&P mechanic is also part of the story, but it does not explain why two dozen people had gathered to welcome him home.

Gordon Gilchrist runs a successful construction company. He is pretty new to aviation; he received his private certificate and purchased his first aircraft over the last two years. Gordon joined the local EAA chapter, and like every new pilot and owner, he had lots of questions. It did not take long for Gordy to figure out that when people around Sparta have questions about flying they usually wind up talking to Larry.

In fact, the ability to find affordable help when you need it is the difference between fun and frustration and may be the biggest variable in determining whether people remain in aviation. In Sparta, GA is doing pretty well, in no small part due to Larry. It seems that everyone has a Larry story - of rides he gave to our kids, advice that provided a breakthrough on some piloting or construction skill, or the many times he dropped whatever he was doing - day or night - to drive to the airport and solve someone's problem. The only hard part about working with Larry is convincing him to accept reasonable compensation for his work.

When the local FBO closed its doors a few weeks ago, Larry quietly asked if he might open a shop. The airport board quickly agreed but could only offer an ancient concrete block hangar, impossible to heat, largely unlit, and poorly wired. Well, it was better than working out of his T-hangar, so Larry accepted, moved a few things over to the new space, then drove his truck north to service some airplanes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

As Gordon was discussing this turn of events with his aviation buddy and business associate, David Taylor, the idea was born. Gordon made the announcement at the EAA meeting on Monday night, May 14, just a couple of days later. "Larry is out of town until Sunday. If anyone wants to help, c'mon over. We're going to get as much done as we can before he gets back."

What followed is little short of a miracle. Volunteer crews averaging a dozen guys worked from morning until nearly midnight for the next four days. Gordon brought in motorized lifts that made the high walls easily accessible. Donors, including the airport board, contributed tools and materials. By Saturday afternoon, a remarkable transformation had occurred. Thick insulation and gleaming white metal sheeting now lined each wall. New fixtures and outlets filled the space with light and power. A neat little office had been framed into the corner and finished with tables and shelves.

The finishing touch was a bright sign featuring Larry's Super Cub; the sign hung high on the old building's face. All that remained was to roll his airplane into his "new" hangar and fasten festive balloons to the prop.

Which brings us to Sunday; Larry was told that local pilots were getting together for a potluck, and he said he could be back in time. We waited together, watching for his truck. When Larry finally arrived, his friend Mark Schmitt walked up and said, "Larry, we have a little surprise for you..." They began the tour of the renovated hangar. It was hard for Larry to know what to say beyond "Wow."

When he had seen it all, what he did say was characteristic: "Man, I'll never be able to charge you guys for anything after this. I'll never be able to pay you back!"

Gordy gave the right answer: "No, Larry, you've already paid for this; you paid it forward."

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