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Wed, Jul 20, 2005

Volunteers: The Very Heart Of Oshkosh

Volunteers Really Run The Show

By ANN Contributor Aleta Vinas

Volunteers are the heart of Oshkosh EAA Air Venture. Without the 4,500 or so selfless people who give their time to this air show, there wouldn't even BE an air show. Volunteers comprise about 95 percent of the air show staff.

These volunteers put in about 250,000 hours of service so AirVenture can be prepared for the annual onslaught. Even the air show performers are volunteers (though they do receive fuel and accommodations).

Performing at AirVenture is by invitation only. Between 30 and 40 acts are invited to Oshkosh each year. The invitations extend to new acts as well old favorites. Performing at Oshkosh is something of an honor for air show performers. It's a big boost for their bookings when a potential client sees "AirVenture" on the list of venues to their resumes. Why? Because AirVenture engages only the best acts for an audience that's both big and aviation-savvy.

You don't need any special qualifications to be a non-flying volunteer at AirVenture. Enthusiasm is a plus. Granted, it helps to be a "people person." Most of the volunteer jobs at the fly-in involve communicating with the public. Since the EAA Communications Center is open 'round-the-clock, the fly-in needs a lot of volunteers. But those who serve there must get something out of it. Some of them have come back each of the past 20 or 30 years.

Worried that, if you volunteer, you'll miss the show? Surprise. there are volunteer jobs both before and after the fly-in. The AirVenture Museum needs volunteers to prep aircraft before they're moved into storage or put on display. The grounds keeping crew needs help maintaining the grounds, including both the campsites and the airport itself. That includes grass cutting, carpentry and mechanical work. You know those Membership tents that are strewn throughout the EAA property? The people who work there need help hanging banners, putting together desks and assembling counter tops. Those are just a few of the volunteer jobs open before and after the show.

Perhaps you think the air show is too crowded for you, but you want to help out anyway. How about an off-site position? For example, Flight Line Operations at Outagamie County Airport needs help parking aircraft. Since the B-17 flights originate there, Outagamie needs shuttle drivers to drive passengers to and from the Oshkosh site.

Love kids? Well, then, there's plenty for you to do at Oshkosh. And you get to give the kids back when it’s over. You can work in Baby Services, where you can be a babysitter. You might choose the Control Line. That's where volunteers help kids fly gas powered model airplanes on a forty foot tether. KidVenture always needs help in the huge tent-full of hands-on kid activities.

Some positions DO require special skills. Take the workshops, for instance. If you're proficient in sheet metal, woodworking, welding, fabric covering and the like, your skills are valued here. At the International Aerobatic Club, you have to have knowledge of aerobatics to work at the main desk. That way, you can answer most of the questions you'll get from visitors.

If you have first aid training or you're a nurse, paramedic or EMT, AirVenture needs you to stand by in case of a medical emergency.

Strictly speaking there’s not a skill requirement at Information Oshkosh. But it sure helps to have an extensive knowledge of the local area.

The shift lengths vary depending what you decide to do. They can run from four to eight hours a day. If you only have a couple of hours to spare and still want to help out, head to one of several volunteer booths on the grounds and sign up. There's sure to be something for you to do, even when your time is limited.

For a lot of volunteers, the pleasure is in the doing. While there are no free tickets and nobody gets paid, volunteers can receive a special commemorative patch. At the close of the airshow, the chairman of each area submits names of the qualified volunteers whom they believe earned a patch.

Some areas may offer mugs, t-shirts or other small remembrances along with patches. The small freebies are certainly not what keep some folks volunteering year after year and often bring their friends along to help out. Wes Schmid has given his time to AirVenture for a remarkable 45 years. Now, he's the chairman of the educational forums at the Honda Pavilion. His crew is responsible for having the right materials ready for each forum. That includes projectors, microphones, white boards and the like. Schmid has nothing but good things to say about the dozen or so volunteers he supervises. He also speaks highly of the speakers who participate in the forums. He says they're often “professors from major universities, NASA people, industry top officials, government officials -- and they’re all volunteers. If their companies won’t pay their way to Oshkosh, some of them plan their vacations so they can take it during Oshkosh."

What keeps Schmid coming back after forty-five years? “I love airplanes," he says. "It’s that simple. I like the history of aviation. I like the homebuilts, the antiques, ultralights, anything that flies.”

Compared to Schmid, Noel Marshall is practically a “newbie.” She's only been a volunteer for 12 years. That's compared to Schmid’s 45. Marshall started in 1992 when her husband was hired by the EAA as a staff member. The then-chairman of Services to Disabled Veterans decided move to another work area. For Marshall, who has a “real” job as a speech therapist for the injured and disabled, the opportunity fit like a glove.

While it was right up her alley, Marshall admits “I didn’t know what I was getting into." Still, she says, "I certainly knew the kind of people I’d be dealing with."

Marshall and her co-chairman take care of about three different groups every year. The full day tour includes a walk around the grounds, a tram ride and a picnic.

“We get them into as many aircraft as we can," she says. Some of the groups that have used Noel Marshall's services include The Paralyzed Veterans Association, Blind Veterans and Veterans Homes.

In 1991 she added Chairman of "Protect Our Planes" to her resume. What's that all about? “EAA has a mission," says Marshall: get people to bring their extraordinary -- and "ordinary" -- aircraft to AirVenture. She also wants them to feel comfortable leaving their planes while enjoying the show, knowing someone is keeping watch over their aircraft.

"We cover all five areas -- ultralights, homebuilts, vintage [planes], warbirds and AeroShell Square," she says.

Marshall first volunteered because her husband went to work at the EAA. But now, she says, “I just love the event and working with the disabled Vets. I learn a lot from them. They’re fun, a fun, appreciative group, who wouldn’t want to be with that?”

People from 14-years old (who work under supervision) to those well into their 80s volunteer to make AirVenture a pleasure. Volunteering is certainly not mandatory. But then there's karma...


Many will be shocked to find,
When the day of judgment nears,
That there’s a special place in Heaven,
Set aside for volunteers.

Furnished with big recliners,
Satin couches and footstools,
Where there are no committee chairmen,
No yard sales or rest area coffee to serve,
No library duty or bulletin assembly,
There will be nothing to print or staple,
Not one thing to fold or mail,
Telephone lists will be outlawed.

But a finger snap will bring
Cool drinks and gourmet dinners
And rare treats fit for a king.

You ask, “Who’ll serve these privileged
And work for all they’re worth?” .
Why, all those who reaped the benefits,
And not once volunteered on Earth.


FMI: www.eaa.org, www.airventure.org, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ProtectOurPlanes


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