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Amphibious Dreams

Paul Seehafer, EAA 181597

November 4, 2015 - I was reminded this year just how important what we do for EAA is to some people.

A gentleman in his early 80s, Jon Ohnstad, EAA 108065, of Fargo, North Dakota, fulfilled a dream he had for over 30 years at EAA AirVenture 2015 when I decided to break a few of our own display rules and make a space for him to show his homebuilt seaplane on the lawn at EAA’s Seaplane Base for the week. From the time he started building his airplane over 30 years ago he dreamt of flying it to Oshkosh. Unfortunately, shortly after completing the airplane his health failed him, so he was no longer able to fly. He felt his dream of three decades ended then. A very successful man in life that could do pretty much anything he set his sights on — but he would never be able to get his plane to Oshkosh. 

One of our volunteers who knows this gentleman casually mentioned him to me during our SPB spring work weekend. Hearing the story I said to myself, “I can change that!” So I made arrangements with him to bring his plane to AirVenture on the custom trailer he also built, and we set it up under a nice tree on the lawn and folded one wing out so all those passing by would notice it. For the entire week, pretty much from sun up to sun down he would sit in a chair talking with people, much like many do that fly their planes into Oshkosh. He had trouble walking so we had to help him with the golf cart to and from the airplane when needed, but it was quite obvious he was having the time of his life. And while it was really no big deal for me or my volunteer staff to accommodate him, he told me repeatedly how much he appreciated what we did to help him fulfill his dream of getting his airplane to Oshkosh. And while there are always a lot of cool or fun things that seem to happen during the EAA convention, this year the height of my week was seeing this one old man’s face light up whenever someone stopped to talk with him and admire his labor of love.

I thought I had fully recognized by the end of the week just how happy he was to finally realize his dream, but when he was ready to leave, with his seaplane on the trailer behind his vehicle and his driver friend impatiently wanting to go, my new, old friend held his hand out the passenger side window, insisting the driver wait until he could shake my hand goodbye. He shook my hand for a long time, and then with his eyes all welled up, he told me “I never did get to fly my airplane to Oshkosh like I planned, but I got it to Oshkosh alright—and it was better than I had ever dreamed it would be.”

As I walked down the long driveway from the parking lot to the waterfront, thinking about what my old friend had said, I was reminded just how important what we do might be to people we don’t even know.

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