Hemelt: Aviation Day opens skies to my children, others

Published 12:04 am Saturday, May 13, 2017

My daughter, Mallory, just enjoyed her seventh birthday Monday, and we did our best to stretch last weekend into a festival of fun for her.

There was a small scale toy shopping spree, cupcakes with classmates, pizza party and ice cream with Papa and — thanks to so many local Cinco de Mayo events — a Mexican food and live music fiesta.

However, nothing seemed to beat her special airplane ride through St. John the Baptist Parish.

Thank you Paul Green for organizing last Saturday’s event, and thank you pilot Cleon Walker for sharing your skills with my children and so many others in our community.

The fly-in was the inaugural St. John the Baptist Parish Aviation Awareness Day, held at Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport in Reserve.

Dozens of supporters, small and large, treated 407 people to free airplane rides, with a special concentration on the nearly 300 children who took to the skies, many for the first time in their lives.

Paul Green, a former Navy man and longtime FedEx airline mechanic, put together the event to expose local children to the readily accessible aviation community.

“To see those kids’ eyes after getting off the airplane was priceless,” Green said. “My pilots were tired but said every time they saw a kid smile, it gave them energy to fly more missions. That is what kept the vision going. We had an enormous turnout.”

Green said mechanical problems limited his pilots to seven, but those volunteers spent more than five hours introducing hundreds of youngsters to a bird’s-eye view they had never seen before.

“I’m not a politician, so I didn’t have anything to lose on this mission,” Green told me this week. “I have no other agenda in this than having some young kids say they want to fly. Next year is going to be bigger and better.”

Green’s passion is infectious and it sure showed in the many sponsors — large corporations and individuals — who worked to put together an event that featured free pizza, jambalaya, drinks, video game play and more for all attendees.

Green joked with me that he only got nervous about putting on the event when people he had never met before started believing in his idea and contributing sponsorship dollars.

Green was especially thankful of fellow organizers and supporters Cedric Grimes and Pastor Donald August.

We’re going to share more of Green’s story in Wednesday’s Lifestyle section.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.