July 8, 2014 - In 1989, Chillicothe, Missouri, residents Kevin Golden and Jack Hickey saw the potential for a local EAA chapter. They organized an initial meeting which drew several people who had an interest in aviation. There seemed to be no hesitation about our decision to form a local EAA chapter. Our beginning “climb out” as a chapter had the usual flight-to-solo excitement as we made our way into a “pattern.”
Jack was the first chapter president, and many of our early meetings were held in his garage. Newsletters were written by Jack and Kevin (vice president) and were mailed out to each member. After Jack passed away, we began holding meetings at different locations of other members.
In the early 1990s, Slim and Holly Caselman made their home and hangar available to us for meetings. Use of their grass airstrip turned our summer meetings into small fly-ins. The Caselmans also started a “winter picnic” that included out-of-state guests and speakers. When they could no longer continue the winter picnics, chapter members pitched in and made it a group function for quite some time.
As the membership grew, Chapter 944 conducted well-attended outings to the Airpower Museum in Blakesburg, Iowa, the TWA Museum at the downtown airport in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum in Marshall, Missouri.
We started to help out with local fly-ins since we had pilots and planes available. Chapter members began flying Young Eagles at the Brookfield (Missouri) Fly-In. We soon began to host our own Young Eagles events while still continuing our support for other area fly-ins.
The Chillicothe Airport built a new terminal building that was dedicated, the Richard L. West Terminal Building, and the chapter attended its dedication on January 12, 2002. West is a local World War II “Double Ace” P-38 pilot. The chapter made a permanent meeting place in the old terminal office. Our new meeting place required lots of remodeling. Chapter President Bob Unternaehrer, Vice President Doyle Leppin, and at-large members Bill Singer and Pat O’Donnell were key to this effort and were assisted by a host of volunteers from the chapter.
In 2003, Chapter 944 President Dyle Wilson was recognized at Oshkosh as Flightline Volunteer of the Year. Dyle has been Chapter 944 president since 2002. He was also recognized recently by his employer for his dedication as a volunteer in the community.
With financial support from the community, we grew in strength over the years. Our fly-in, held each August, revolves around Young Eagle flights. Chillicothe’s American Legion and VFW Posts, including chapter member Larry Warren, raise the flag to start the day. The national anthem is sung by a local volunteer. The fly-in includes a breakfast and many raffle items donated by local businesses. Groups also set up booths for displaying information.
Kids are normally lined up waiting for their Young Eagles rides. We have several volunteer pilots who fly the kids while ground volunteers marshal them safely from the staging area to the airplanes. These fly-ins have turned into a popular local event, drawing large crowds every year. Local support has been fantastic and is largely due to some outstanding volunteers, such as Cathie Hamilton and Karen Kay Summerville, who work within our communities to promote the spirit of aviation.
Several years ago, we started a Solo Flight Scholarship program that provides financial assistance for flight instruction to deserving applicants. Our chapter became a 501(c)3 organization in 2009, and we expanded the education program to include sending young people to EAA Air Academy in Oshkosh. We plan to commemorate each flight scholarship and Air Academy recipient by displaying a list with their names in our meeting room.
To date, nearly 2,000 Young Eagles have flown with the pilots in our organization. One outstanding individual, Doyle Leppin, has flown 645 kids, along with countless “Silver Eagle” flights including a woman in her nineties that finally enjoyed her first airplane ride. Doyle was also recognized by the Young Eagles program for flying 53 kids in one month - more than anywhere else in the United States.
We have lost members along the way who also contributed greatly to our group success, but our “flight” continues. We have a plaque on the wall in our chapter house with the names of our members who have “gone west.”
With the support of our community and volunteers who do whatever it takes, we should continue to have a smooth flight into the future.