This year, Oshkosh visitors will experience
many changes to the AirVenture convention grounds with enhanced amenities
and greatly improved infrastructure. One of the most recent additions to
the site is perhaps the most simple and, for weary visitors, will likely
be the most appreciated. Just this week, dozens of new concrete benches
were placed throughout the grounds. They'll provide a convenient place for
people to stop, relax, and rest during their AirVenture visit..
The benches were generously donated to EAA
by Craig and Connie Willan in memory of Craig's older brother, Brent, who
succumbed to brain cancer several years ago.
Their father, who flew B-17s in World War
II with the U.S. Army Air Corps, passed the aviation gene to Craig, an EAA
Lifetime Member who has built an RV-7A along with some ultralights and is
in the process of building a Sonex.
"But Brent, he was a car guy,"
Craig, a metallurgical engineer, joined EAA
in the late 1970s. Every year he attended Oshkosh he tried to coax his
brother into joining him, but Brent always declined. Craig and Connie live
in Texas north of Fort Worth, and Brent lived in South Dakota. In 2003, as
the aviation world was preparing to celebrate the 100th year of powered
flight, Brent finally relented and attended his first AirVenture.
"And he loved it!" Craig said. In
fact Brent became so enamored with aviation that he decided to build his
own airplane, an RV-8. After the convention ended he began taking flight
Something, however, wasn't quite right with
Brent when he got into the cockpit, and he would tell his younger brother,
"I'm just not getting it." Craig tried to reassure him that
everything would eventually make sense, and Brent pressed on.
But cognitive difficulties started
occurring more frequently in Brent's everyday life. Following a physical
examination in November of that year, he was told he had two brain tumors.
"They gave him a month to live,"
Craig said. Refusing to accept such a dire prognosis, Craig brought his
brother to the University of Texas, where cancer treatment is world
renowned, for a second opinion. They were able to treat the tumors with
chemotherapy and other regimens, which gave Brent two more years, allowing
another trip to Oshkosh in 2004.
Craig said Brent would frequently grow very
tired during that visit, only able to manage walking 30 or 40 minutes at a
time before needing rest. Craig remembered that there wasn't always a
convenient place for Brent to stop and rest on the grounds. That
recollection became an action plan just a few months ago.
While in Mojave, California, for a special
preview of WhiteKnightTwo at Scaled Composites, Craig met with EAA's
Elissa Lines, EAA vice president of development, to discuss an idea he had
to honor Brent - donate several hundred benches to provide more places for
visitors to rest while attending AirVenture. "At the end of the day,
human beings need water, food, and rest," he said.
The first shipment of benches - about 100
of them - is in place for Oshkosh 2009, with more scheduled to be placed
throughout the grounds in the coming years.
Brent went to his final rest in December
2005, a full 25 months after he was told to get his affairs in order
within 30 days. But his legacy will go on for years to come, providing
thousands of AirVenture attendees with a place to take a break during
their long convention days.