By Bruce Troxell, AADF volunteer

AADF volunteer leads fundraising efforts for the ‘Spirit of Wisconsin’

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” In addition to finding yourself, doing good deeds can also inspire others to pitch in and help.

A prime example is the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation (AADF), a non-profit organization established and dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans with Dream Flights in open-cockpit biplanes. The rejuvenation of seniors’ and veterans’ spirits can be amazing and, in the case of then 91-year old World War II veteran Eddie Lamken, his flight in 2015 was truly a life-changing experience. Eddie’s son, David Lamken, was so thankful for his father’s revived spirit that he volunteered to lead AADF’s effort to purchase another airplane—truly a case of “One good deed inspiring another.”

Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation

Founded by Darryl Fisher in 2011, AADF relies on volunteer pilots and crew members across the United States to provide free Dream Flights, each usually lasting about 20 minutes, in one of three fully restored World War II era, Boeing Stearmans.

AADF has given over 3,000 Dream Flights in 37 states since 2011 and the responses of the seniors and veterans have been incredible. “Their faces tell the story,” Fisher said. “The smiles, looking around, the awe of being in the air. You can see sometimes there’s apprehension and you can see that just fade away. It’s real special.” The response has been so great that AADF is now actively looking for another Stearman to expand their number of Dream Flights.

Eddie Lamken’s Dream Flight

When Dave Lamken initially discussed with Eddie the possibility of doing an AADF Dream Flight, Eddie was indifferent and showed no enthusiasm. Eddie had pulled away from life, resigned himself to a wheelchair, and according to Dave, Eddie “basically gave up.”  When it came Eddie’s turn on the day of the flight, Dave apprehensively pushed Eddie’s wheelchair toward the Stearman, his mind filled with questions: “Would Eddie decide not to go? Would we have problems getting him in the airplane? Would he shut down with fear?”

Darryl Fisher, the pilot, and the ground crew helped Eddie out of his wheelchair and into the front cockpit. While the ground crew helped Eddie get settled and strapped in, Darryl got into the rear cockpit to get ready for the flight. Watching his father in the front seat, Dave couldn’t believe his eyes! There was Eddie with a huge smile on his face, giving a thumbs up and waving to people. Dave was ecstatic—he hadn’t seen Eddie so animated in over a year!

When everything was set to go, Eddie continued to wave and smile as the Stearman taxied out to the runway. Unbeknownst to Eddie, Dave had arranged for Darryl to fly over Eddie’s boyhood farm about 20 miles from the airport.  About half an hour after take-off, the blue and yellow Stearman appeared over the horizon and made a smooth landing. Taxiing back to the hanger apron, Dave could see that Eddie was still waving and smiling ear-to-ear.

Then, says Dave, “With very little assistance, Eddie climbed out of the cockpit, down the wing, down the stepladder and, as he stood there with his cane, he was so happy he started to cry. I had the wheelchair there so he sat down and spoke with the newspapers, did TV interviews and remarked that he was overwhelmed by getting to fly over his boyhood farm.”

A Life-changing Event for the Whole Lamken Family

The Dream Flight proved to be a life-changing event, not only for Eddie, but also for Dave and his two sisters, Debbie Spees and Diane Kohn. Following his Dream Flight, Eddie got out of his wheelchair and has walked with the assistance of a wheeled walker or a cane ever since. In addition, Eddie’s attitude changed to where he again looked forward to living.

Eddie and Dave are both Army veterans and, following Eddie’s flight, they began talking about their respective Army careers and sharing their memories in ways that only fellow veterans can. Eddie also become an active family member once again, looking forward to going places and spending time with his daughters.

Dream Flight Inspires Dave to Lead

Dave was elated to have his father back amongst his active family members and he wanted to help others have the same experience. Dave went above and beyond the call of duty, and volunteered to lead AADF’s drive to raise money to purchase a fourth Stearman, the “Spirit of Wisconsin,” to be based in Stevens Point, Wisc. The goal is to raise $125,000. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation toward the purchase of the fourth Stearman, visit Gofundme online, contact Dave Lamken at (608)334-5760 or aadflamken@charter.net or donate directly to AADF by contacting them at www.agelessaviationdreams.org.

Near Stevens Point, Wis., on June 19? Join AADF for the 2nd Annual Spirit of Wisconsin Golf Outing at SentryWorld Golf Course.

To learn more, visit Spirit of Wisconsin Go Fund Me.