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Chapter 690’s Night to Remember

EAA Chapter 690 Hosts Annual Christmas Party, EAA CEO Jack Pelton Visits

By Randy Epstein, EAA 833410, EAA Chapter 690 President

February 2017 - EAA Chapter 690 of Lawrenceville, Georgia, celebrated Christmas with a party on December 9. This time, Chapter 690 had the pleasure of EAA CEO and Chairman Jack J. Pelton joining in the celebration.

We started the evening by taking Jack down to our Bishop Education Hangar to introduce him to four of the dedicated youths in our build program: Steven Aguedelo, Carolyn Coppinger, Maddie Hale, and Alex Kirkland. These young folks are part of our youth build program, which is currently building an Ultralight Pietenpol under the guidance of our mentor team of Rick Mathisen, Hugh Colton, Joel Levine, Art Farmer, and Duane Huff. The youths spoke to Jack about their experiences working on the Pietenpol, what they have learned along the way, as well as the tools and techniques they have had the opportunity to try.

After speaking with our youth builders, Jack was given an introduction to “Heidi” by Chapter 690 member Chuck Roberts. Chuck built Heidi from scratch a couple of years ago in preparation for our 2015 Summer Camp. Heidi is a helicopter demonstrator with fully functioning controls that is used by the chapter at many events to introduce young folks to the principles behind how a helicopter functions. Jack got a little seat time and seemed most amazed at the fact that Chuck built Heidi from his imagination, with no plans. The chapter is lucky to have members like Chuck who are willing to share their skills in moving aviation forward with the younger generation.

After exploring the design of Heidi, we held a brief dedication of the hangar that was donated to the chapter by Larry and Laura Bishop earlier in the year. The Bishops were mainstays in the chapter until Alzheimer’s began to steal Larry’s memory. Larry was a longtime Young Eagles pilot for the chapter, having flown more than 400 Young Eagles. Laura could be found many times working with the kitchen crew at a pancake breakfast or other chapter events.

Prior to and during dinner we were treated to Christmas music by our own Elgin Wells Jr. and Ron Freed. Dinner was wonderful, as our members brought many delicious salads, side dishes, and desserts while the chapter provided turkey, ham, and drinks. We took time to enjoy our meal and share in hangar talk, and then moved on to the best part of the evening: our chance to recognize the many chapter members who have assisted us throughout the year.

We first recognized Jack by presenting him with a beautiful piece of artwork created by our own John Slemp with help from Steve Ashby. We were informed that Jack likes Stearman aircraft, so Steve and John made arrangements with Vic Syracuse, a local Stearman owner, to photograph his plane. We are so lucky to have talent like John’s in our chapter.

From there, we moved on to having Jeanne Ferguson and Duane Huff recognize our many Young Eagles volunteers. We are so lucky to have these volunteers, who come out every month to help us fly groups of young people. We thanked Duane and Jeanne for keeping this program moving forward. Chris Serra flew the most Young Eagles for the year, with a total of 56. Great job, Chris!

Next, we recognized our chapter leadership, an important part of keeping a vibrant chapter like 690 innovating. Our leadership team for 2016 was Randy Epstein, president; John Morgan, VP; Jeanne Ferguson, treasurer; Rich Hopkins, secretary; and Joel Levine, Brian Michael, John Post, and Chuck Roberts, all at-large members. Next was our mentor group for the youth build, who had taken an idea I had for the chapter and turned it into a shining jewel for the chapter. Along with our mentors, Sky Powers, a Spirit Airlines pilot, is currently teaching our youth ground school. We also recognized our kitchen crew under the guidance of Jill Balthazer, who has been leading the crew for more than a dozen years as they provide pancake breakfasts and dinner events.

After member recognition, the EAA 690 choral singers, along with Elgin Wells Jr. and Ron Freed, led the chapter in a Christmas carol sing-along. We paused before the last song of the night to present our Member of the Year Award for 2016. While we had several good candidates, in the end the choice was obvious. Our 2016 awards were presented to the mentors for our youth build program: Rick Mathisen, Hugh Colton, Joel Levine, Art Farmer, and Duane Huff, who all exemplify what it means to give of one’s self through their time and efforts in working with our youth and teaching them skills they never dreamed they would have at this point in their lives. We look forward to watching these young adults continue to grow, and expect to see some of them begin their journey toward becoming pilots in the coming year.

Looking back, 2016 has been a great year for EAA Chapter 690, and I can’t help but look forward to the new year with excitement as we continue to work on our programs and introduce new ideas. One of those programs we look forward to kicking off is a simulator program guided by Delta employee Wes Riddick in our new simulator room.

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