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Volunteers of the Year

Erin Henze


Every year, thousands of volunteers work together to make AirVenture and all EAA programs run. This year, four volunteers, nominated by their peers, have been chosen to receive the Volunteer of the Year Award. This award is given to volunteers who have gone above and beyond in the giving of their “time, talents, and knowledge for the betterment of EAA.” Honored this year are John and Becky Lowe, Jerry Burke, Harry and Jan Crisman, and Jim Moss, who received their awards on Sunday, July 24, during the Volunteer of the Year Awards ceremony in Volunteer Park.

John, EAA 522935, and Becky Lowe, EAA 696676, are chairmen for Operation Thirst and the Volunteer Kitchen, working to feed over 1,000 volunteers and employees every day during AirVenture.

“We got an army in here,” John said. “Those guys also are chopping vegetables, chopping melons. And then we got the back room with the ovens and stuff and we’re baking everything. And the guys out here washing dishes. And I mean, it’s a full restaurant operation going on. … We’re feeding a thousand people a day.”

“There are many, many, many moving parts,” Becky said. “When we said we’d do this, I had no idea what I was involved in. I’ve enjoyed it. I have made wonderful friendships ... they are all so lovely. I look forward to them.”

John and Becky said they were overwhelmed when they found out they were being honored as Volunteers of the Year.

“I don’t know who nominated us or why,” Becky said. “It brought tears to my eyes, actually.”

Jerry Burke, EAA 365400, officially started volunteering in 2007, but has been working with EAA since 1970. Working at a local news station, Jerry helped bring a large media presence to AirVenture. After retiring, Jerry worked with Tom Poberezny to put together “Plane Talk,” a series of Q&As with pilots and crew at their aircraft.

“I would do my background research on each person that I was going to do, and we’d do the Q&A with the pilot or the crew,” Jerry said. “I would open it up after for maybe 15 or 20 minutes to the members that had gathered around, the people in the audience, and let them ask questions.”

At 81 years old, Jerry is semiretired from “Plane Talk,” doing only a few this year before he fully retires.

“Two or three a day would be fine by me, because I love doing these,” Jerry explained. Despite being a part of AirVenture for over 50 years, Jerry didn’t think he deserved to win the Volunteer of the Year Award.

“There’s a lot of other people I think deserve this more than me that have been out there a lot more years than I have,” Jerry said, “but I’m very flattered and humbled. There’s a lot of good memories.”

Harry, EAA 16857, and Jan Crisman have been volunteering at AirVenture on and off since the original air show in Rockford in 1963.

“Our first time was in 1963 in Rockford,” Harry said. “I ended up stringing banners that day. We were there only two days.”

They’ve done a variety of jobs, including hauling gravel, mowing grass, and burning the flightline. And, for the most part, they’ve been working together.

“One year I stayed home, and he came up here by himself for a while,” Jan said. “I found a ride to come up with some neighbors, because I didn’t like being alone.”

“I embarrassed her,” Harry said. “I kissed her right out in front of everybody!” After working together for so long, winning the Volunteer of the Year award was a welcome surprise.

“Very honored,” Harry said on how he felt upon winning. “There’s other people that are chairmen and that do a lot more than we do. We contribute what we’re capable of doing.”

Finally, Jim Moss, EAA 80553, has been volunteering at AirVenture for over 50 years, starting when he was just in his teens. He talked his way into fixing bikes during 1972, eventually becoming the chairman of safety, and he couldn’t be happier.

“I don’t come here for the airplanes, I come here for the people,” Jim said. “I’ve been coming back ever since I started working full time, just because of the people. … I’ve been doing this basically all my life … It’s just so much fun!”

When Jim arrived to volunteer this summer, he was given a letter. He joked that he was getting fired, but was shocked when he opened it up.

“I read the letter from Jack and said, ‘Come on, you’re pulling my leg,’” Jim said. “It’s just absolutely out of the blue. I work like everybody else does.”

Jim wants to encourage more people to come out and volunteer.

“You’re going to have fun, no matter what you do,” Jim said. “To new volunteers, young, old, and in between, come out and do it. You don’t really know the convention or know the membership until you start volunteering.”

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