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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedHonoring EAA’s Young Eagles volunteers
By Barbara A. Schmitz, EAA AirVenture Today
Ron Shelton
Doug Nelson
Russell Grell
Neita Montague
Robert (Butch) Bejna

July 29, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - Ron Shelton does it to see the children and their families enjoying themselves. Doug Nelson just hopes to hear, “This is the best day of my life.” Richard Grell still remembers the “spark” that ignited his love of aviation and wants to give that spark to others. Neita Montague says she gets a huge “high” every time she comes “down.” Robert (Butch) Bejna enjoys seeing the children’s reaction when they’re back on the ground.

No matter the reason they got involved in EAA’s Young Eagles program, they have stayed involved because they know they are making a difference. While thousands give of their time to make the Young Eagles program soar, a few have been honored for their extraordinary efforts. This year’s winners will receive their awards today at the EAA AirVenture Museum’s Eagle Hangar.

The 2009 award recipients include:

  • Ron Shelton, of Columbia, South Carolina—Chapter Coordinator

  • Doug Nelson, of Milford, New Jersey—Humanitarian Award

  • Russell Grell, of Highlands, Colorado—Ground Volunteer

  • Neita Montague, of Reno, Nevada— Field Representative

  • Robert (Butch) Bejna, of Addison, Illinois—Conoco-Phillips Leadership Award

Ron Shelton, Chapter Coordinator
Shelton has participated in Young Eagles since 1992 and has been the chapter coordinator since 2005. One of his main jobs as chapter coordinator is to help recruit pilots and children. It takes persistence to find children for their Young Eagle flights, held the second Saturday of every month.

“We just keep telling people all the time that we do this, and we don’t let up,” he said. “We make a lot of calls to churches, children’s clubs, home schooled groups; every time we have families or groups come, we tell them that the only requirement is that they tell others to come.”

Shelton said hard work makes their chapter’s Young Eagles events successful. “It’s not just my hard work, but a core group who really work, come to every meeting, and take on assignments. There is no shortcut for success.”

Doug Nelson, Humanitarian Award
Nelson, of EAA Chapter 643, has been flying children with special needs for a decade and because of his efforts he will receive the 2009 Humanitarian Award.

Each summer, Nelson and other Chapter 643 members give rides to youth who attend a nearby camp open to children who are homeless, in foster care, abused, or disadvantaged.

“We live in an affluent area, and while we enjoy flying the kids in our area, the truth is that those children can afford to do what they want to do,” Nelson said. “The kids at this camp don’t have that option. Plus it allows us to give back to a little larger population. And it’s fun to see their attitudes go away.”

Nelson recalled one particular youngster: The camper was having so much fun. We were…just flying around when he said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’ That says it all.”

Russell Grell, Ground Volunteer
Someone took Russell Grell up for an airplane ride when he was young, giving him that “spark” to pursue aviation. Now he’s helping do the same for countless other youth.

Grell has been ground coordinator at Rocky Mountain Chapter 301 Young Eagles events since 1999, and he said his job centers around doing a little bit of everything, from directing traffic, to parking aircraft, to escorting people to the aircraft and more. “I’m an A&P mechanic besides a pilot, so I’ll also make visual inspections of airplanes to make sure everything looks hunky-dory.”

Of receiving the award, Grell said, “So many people are just as worthy as I am, if not more. But I’m very happy to represent them all.”

Neita Montague, Field Representative certificate
As a field representative with EAA’s Young Eagles program since 1999, Montague organizes Young Eagles flights. She has given 114 flights since she started with the program in 1993.

“I try to fly one child at a time so that I can concentrate just on that Young Eagle,” she said. “I perceive this as an opportunity to open their eyes to the glories of flying, to open their minds to the idea that communication and math skills are important for flying, and in fact, for whatever they want to do in life.”

Montague is in Slovenia for the Women’s Soaring Seminar, so Virginia Harmer will accept the award on her behalf.

“I am absolutely thrilled to receive this award,” Montague said. “It is so rewarding to fly Young Eagles that I come ‘down’ with a huge high.”

Robert (Butch) Bejna, Conoco- Phillips Leadership Award
More than 1,500 Young Eagles have taken flight with Bejna in his Cessna 150. He started flying kids with Chapter 101 at Meigs Field in 1996, in Chicago, and now participates in the Young Eagles program from a number of different airports for different chapters.

But he does more than just fly kids. He has served as Chapter 101’s Young Eagles coordinator and helped with the ground school. While here he volunteers at the Young Eagles pavilion. Bejna also donates models to the silent auction for the Gathering of Eagles event.

What’s the best part of the Young Eagles program?

 “Seeing the reaction of the kids when we get back on the ground.”

His advice to other EAA chapters is simple. “If you haven’t given any Young Eagles flights, try it. It really is a lot of fun.”

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