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Franckes Keep EAA Volunteering All in the Family
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 27, 2018 - Talk about all in the family. Four female generations of the Francke family have made volunteering at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh a tradition not to be missed.
Nancy Francke; her daughter, Theresa Francke; her granddaughter, Stephanie Schwarz; and her great-granddaughter, Ava Gerlach-Schwarz, are all volunteering at Oshkosh this year. Together, they have volunteered for the annual fly-in convention for a combined 88 years. And the number would be much higher if you include Nancy’s mother and father, Marcella and Don Deischer, who also volunteered for decades.
The family not only volunteers together for the week, but also camps about two blocks from each other in Camp Scholler.
“It’s Grandma and Grandpa’s fault that we’re here,” Theresa said. “They really started the tradition.”
Ava, 12, agreed. “It’s like a family holiday for us.” And that means when Theresa and Stephanie took new jobs, they made sure they could have the week off for the fly-in convention — for nothing can get in the way of their week.
Nancy and her husband, Melvin, have been volunteering for 45 years at AirVenture, and the two worked as chairmen of the locators for 20-30 years until cellphones made that job irrelevant. In the early days of the convention, people would have to register where they were staying on the grounds so they could be found in case of emergencies, she said.
“People would fill out the locator card and write they were in a green tent down two from the red tent by the porta potty,” Theresa said, laughing. “But we’d somehow find them.”
“One time we got a call from a woman looking for her husband,” Nancy recalled. “She said the water was flooding her basement, and she wanted us to get ahold of her husband so he could tell her what to do.” Instead, Nancy suggested she find someone who knew how to turn off the water in her house before the entire basement was flooded.
The family has volunteered throughout the AirVenture grounds over the years, but today, Nancy mainly volunteers in Showplane Parking, and Theresa, Stephanie, and Ava work in the Communications Center. Theresa also volunteers in the Print Mail Center.
Going to Oshkosh for the week was part of growing up. Stephanie recalled coming to AirVenture earlier with her grandparents when she was young. “Grandpa would pick me up on my bike, and I’d sleep on an air mattress on the back of a truck. I loved it; it was my own little space.”
Theresa, from Mauston, Wisconsin, said there are even pictures of her in a playpen as her mother and father worked in EAA maintenance in the background.
Now that they’re retired and split their time between Florida and Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, Nancy said they come up a couple of weeks before AirVenture, as well as during work weekends, and stay throughout the week.
Theresa said 2018 is her 23rd year of volunteering, while this is the 19th year for Stephanie. It’s Ava’s first official year of volunteering, although she’s been coming to the fly-in convention since her mom was pregnant with her.
Ava said she enjoys volunteering at EAA. “It’s cool to see how everyone does different things, and how that creates this big show that everyone comes to,” she said. “I like to be a part of it and make a difference.”
But this family also makes a difference in other areas of their life. Nancy volunteers at a campground, Theresa at an animal shelter, and Stephanie for a soccer club. And they usually also help out with the EAA Chapter 93 pancake breakfast or for Young Eagles flights.
And while Melvin is the only pilot of the group, the rest are big aviation supporters. “We easily get distracted if there is a plane flying above,” Nancy said. “And we love the added night air show.”
All of the family agreed they volunteer at Oshkosh because of the people. “You come to see your EAA family and friends,” Nancy said. “I have met so many people over the years from all over the world; they are what keeps bringing us back.”