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ChapterGram: July 2013

Open Mic


By Trevor Janz, EAA 656941 - EAA Manager of Chapters and Eagle Flights

"Simply stated, do what needs to be done to make this a great chapter or excuse yourself from membership." - Chapter 534 President Arnold Holmes

I was reading EAA Chapter 534's recent newsletter and was surprised to see the above words from its president, Arnold Holmes. I sent him a note about this comment, and here's his reply:

Thank you for reading our chapter's newsletter. We have only recently started publishing a newsletter again, and it has been a number of years since the chapter has done so. I have been thinking for a while on how best to answer your e-mail. This is why it has taken so long for you to get my reply.

The reason for our extraordinary growth in the last year and a half comes down to a few simple ideas. First, when I took over as president I stated from the very first moment that I was not going to listen to any excuses from the members. Simply stated, do what needs to be done to make this a great chapter or excuse yourself from membership. I took no prisoners and allowed no debate on issues.

My mantra was "make a decision." One of the major problems plaguing our chapter was the continual way everybody sat around and debated what the chapter was going to do next. These debates went on for months, and literally nothing was ever accomplished, and in almost all cases, never even started. I stopped all that immediately and made people give me a decision on issues.

At my first meeting as president I laid out a clear path of what I expected the chapter to achieve in the next 24 months.

  • Double membership
  • Fly 100 Young Eagles for the year 2012
  • Obtain a hangar for chapter use on the Leesburg Airport
  • Become a 501(c)(3) organization
  • Become involved in the local community through organizations like the Boy Scouts
  • Hold the first EAA chapter-sponsored fly-in at our airport

We accomplished almost all of those within 12 months!

I laid this out and actually had some of the old-timers in the group laugh at me. I turned to them, pointed at the door, and gave them the option. I asked for volunteers to head up several new committees, and when no one held up their hand, I simply picked who I thought would be best. When they put up resistance, I offered them the chance to walk out. I gave them a clear indication that it was my way or the highway.

I ended that first meeting with a passionate speech about the reasons behind an active, forward-looking chapter. I talked about how I grew up in the EAA and how it shaped my life and what it means to me. I talked about all the fun things we can do as a well-organized team, like building an airplane in the chapter hangar. I am more "old school" EAA than new school, and I tried to bring that passion to the members.

So to bottle up my response on how we made such progress in such a short time, I laid down my plan and gave no one a chance to hide from responsibility. I accepted no excuses from anyone in the chapter, no matter who they were, how old they were, or how long they had been in the chapter. If you're not going to make this a great chapter (through your participation), then don't bother joining or staying.

This may sound like an extreme way of getting things done, but it worked. The chapter was down to a handful of members when I started. They had no direction, no projects, no involvement with the local community, and a bad relationship with our airport manager. I think it may have lasted another year but probably not much longer.

Now we have a solid future and a lot of excited members who are becoming very active. We have groups of people who now show up at our hangar to work on things together. We have members helping other members finish airplanes, and we have a local community that is starting to understand what it is we do. We have a great relationship with the city and the airport management, as evidenced by the fact that we have a nice hangar that is rent-free!

After all this, elections are coming up again, and although I had said at the beginning that I would only serve as president for one term...nobody seems to want me to stop.
Arnold Holmes
A&P/IA 2712249
EAA 519850
President, EAA Chapter 534
Leesburg, Florida

Thank you, Arnold, for your bold leadership! I was talking with Paul Poberezny several months ago, and he said that the failure of an EAA chapter is due to lack of strong leadership. Keep up the good work, and I sincerely hope that other chapter leaders/members reading this will take something from the same bold approach. Their chapter depends on it. - TJ

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