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2023 Dorothy Hilbert Award Winner
July, 2023 — EAA founder Paul Poberezny was the main contributor to why Bonnie Fitzsimmons chose to incorporate aviation into her life. After dedicating her time volunteering in the world of aviation, Bonnie has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Dorothy Hilbert Award, given annually to a female EAA volunteer who exhibits the same passion and dedication as the award’s namesake.
Bonnie grew up in Elgin, Illinois, and attended St. Ed’s High School. After graduation, Bonnie ended up opening a Zayre department store. In the electronics department of Zayre, Bonnie’s present husband of 50 years, Craig, was an employee at her store. Craig is also the present chairman of the Comm Center, handpicked by Paul Poberezny and Ron Scott. Paul came to Craig hoping to find the perfect two-way radio communication for the convention. Eventually, Craig and Paul met up, and the friendship between Bonnie and Craig and Paul blossomed.
This is the 44th EAA convention Bonnie and her husband will be volunteering at. The convention has grown and developed tremendously throughout the years, and Bonnie has contributed significantly to that growth within EAA. What was once 50 radios for communication between EAA staff and volunteers is now 680 radios. Bonnie and the ground crew command the radios to communicate with other groups so EAA runs smoothly, especially during the air shows. They work with all the air bosses and performers to ensure they have everything they need regarding air shows. On top of ground communication for the air shows, they do all the sound work.
Bonnie and Craig have built up a team that makes AirVenture possible. This consists of around 40 people who specialize in radio communications. This team is necessary because they take care of entering all the phones during the air shows and the phones coming into AirVenture. The team is 24/7 and has different shifts, fully operating when the air shows happen.
“So, we are a big piece of the air show itself. I think that the thing that I am most proud of, too, is that no one complains about the job that they do. Everybody loves it. Everybody does what they need to do. They come, they know, they are trained, and everybody is cross-trained with each other,” Bonnie said. “It has been a great life for us. It really has. We raised our three kids around this environment and the air show world, and we worked for Bill for 25 years. So, it has been the volunteering and the working, and the fun times are there. It can be a grand old time if you are around it. Let me tell you. It is one big happy family.”
Bonnie and her husband also come up before AirVenture to prepare for the convention. Bonnie mainly works in the EAA Wearhouse and helps the manager tremendously. Bonnie assists in taking charge of all the volunteers who come in, and the manager takes care of all the hourly waged people. Despite it being work, Bonnie sees it as an opportunity to connect with other people, and it’s a meaningful part of her life, especially when it comes to caring for the interns who interact with her.
“Since I have been in the Wearhouse, a lot of the kids that are college kids become interns. So, then I nurture them in whatever fields they want to go in. Ryan, one of our guys, came on board this year; it is his first year. He says he really wants to be in communications and all that. I said, ‘Well, what kind of communications do you want to be in?’ He said, ‘I want to be in publications and broadcasting and all that,’” Bonnie said. “So a good friend of ours on the grounds here is Dick Knapinski. So, he went down and talked to Ryan, and I like to nurture these young kids. I ask them how they all like what they are doing and what they are going to do in their life and all that. Some do not know yet, and some do. I enjoy that part of what I do down there.”
Bonnie has made a fantastic reputation for herself within EAA. Looking back, she could not imagine it any other way. Bonnie greatly appreciates all the volunteers and notices that EAA AirVenture is only possible with them. She has a tremendous amount of respect for them and actively wants to make them feel cared for and appreciated.
“I think the people make it. I mean, the volunteers are absolutely amazing. We have luncheons on the grounds,” Bonnie said. “In fact, we got the volunteer kitchen area for the July 4th weekend. That is where we bond with each other out here in the park as well. We do a lot of dinners. We have a deck that’s by our camper here. We have a lot of evenings where people come and join each other. My husband and I both help each other and help these people. That if they need anything, that is part of our responsibilities. [That] is the way we look at it.”