By Henry M. Holden
Over the years, the Gathering of Eagles fundraising event at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh has attracted more and more corporations and individuals. The 2007 Gathering of Eagles dinner held on July 26, in the AirVenture Museum’s Eagle Hangar, drew more than 1,000 people. Guests included two former Young Eagles chairmen, Academy Award-winning actor Cliff Robertson and Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, as well as astronauts Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell, and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who shared inspirational words with guests.
“This is a special evening as we celebrate the Gathering of Eagles, recognizing EAA’s outreach programs to young men and women who will be the future of aviation,” said EAA President Tom Poberezny. “We recognize the legacy we leave and must ensure that legacy continues for many years to come in the persons of the Young Eagles gathered here tonight.”
Young Eagles’ present chairman, Harrison Ford, was in Hawaii filming the fourth installment of the “Indiana Jones” series, but provided a video message challenging auction participants to “bid early and bid often.”
Each year, dinner and auction proceeds provide support for the Young Eagles and other EAA programs that inspire young people to become the aviation pioneers of tomorrow. The grand total raised from the live and silent auctions and other fundraising during this year’s dinner was a record $1.5 million.
The Ford Motor Company provided the evening’s auctioneers, noted Barrett Jackson professional auctioneers Spanky and Amy Assiter. A silent auction featured hundreds of items, and 20 major items were auctioned live.
A package containing tickets to the premier of “Indiana Jones” earned $65,000. It included private jet transportation with Jack Pelton, chairman, president and CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company and Gathering of Eagles event chair.
One of the most fascinating events of the evening featured the talented Michael Ostacki of Art Explosion. He created three paintings onstage, to hard-driving music, in less than seven minutes each. Ostacki created a rendition of the Stature of Liberty, signed by Robertson and Yeager. His other subjects were Cernan, the last man on the Moon, and Lovell, Apollo 13 commander, who helped Ostacki complete the final work of art. The three renderings sold for $56,000. Skip Lehman of Mach 2 Management underwrote Ostacki’s participation.
A day with Boeing Commercial Airplane Company CEO Scott Carson brought $100,000 towards the charitable cause. A Napa Valley winery experience, including winery tours, a variety of wines and time with flying vintners Larry Turley and Bo Barrett, brought $16,000, and an exciting package including two tickets to the “American Idol” finals in Los Angeles and a two-night stay at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel raised $16,500. Other auction items included a custom-painted Harley-Davidson, which brought in $30,000; time with air show performer Sean Tucker, $20,000; and two flight experiences with the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, at $20,000 each.
The high point of the auction was the dramatic entrance through the hangar doors of Cirrus’ donated SRS sn #1. Hal Shevers, president and CEO of Sporty’s Pilot Shop, placed the winning bid of $170,000. He’ll also receive two hours of dual instruction with aerobatic legend Patty Wagstaff.
“I’m really looking forward to the instruction with Patty,” Shevers said. “And there will be no aerobatics!”
Poberezny said EAA would put the funds raised that evening, and throughout the year, toward the dream of expanding Young Eagles’ first-flight program and other educational activities designed to keep young people involved in aviation.
“These programs are cultivating the next generation of pilots, aeronautical engineers, air-space scientists and innovators,” he said.
Steve Buss, Young Eagles executive director and the night’s emcee, was thankful for the support.
“It was an extremely exciting evening, with lots of people supporting our initiatives to encourage the future of aviation,” he said. “This outpouring of support is incredible.”