EAA Founder Paul Poberezny gives the “thumbs up” while parked in his famous Volkwagen
Beetle, Red One, during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011.
Happy 90th, Paul
Thanks for what you did
J. MAC McCLELLAN, EAA 747337
IT WAS A SEEMINGLY SMALL GESTURE, but one I saw repeated many times.
EAA Founder Paul Poberezny would halt a conversation, or stop his
open-air Volkswagen Beetle, Red One, and pick up a rare piece of trash
that had found its way onto the EAA convention grounds.
President Paul—as everyone called him then—didn’t complain
about the type of person who would do such a thing as litter at
the big annual EAA fly-in. In fact, I don’t remember him saying
anything at all. He just snatched up the trash and put it in the nearest
wastebasket, and there were many.
Paul didn’t need to say anything. We all got it. Paul and his wife,
Audrey, had founded EAA in their basement. He is the greatest single
influence in the growth and success of EAA, but most importantly
he has been the driving force in establishing the culture of EAA that
persists today. No task—including picking up that lowly hot dog
wrapper—was too small for Paul to take on personally, and we all
followed his example.
If you ever wondered where the EAA penchant for neatness,
orderliness, and logical organization comes from, look no further than
Paul. It is simply the way he has lived his life. For Paul it’s simply logical
to keep things clean and orderly, and that fundamental logic prevailed
on those around him.
Paul is rightly famous for the dozens of airplanes he designed and
built, and the hundreds of different types he has flown. But he is even
more successful as a builder of relationships. Paul is
first and foremost a people person who found countless
ways to link together various groups whose only
common interest is aviation. With his Wisconsin accent
that word comes out “avvvviation,” and he uses it many
times each day.
While EAA attracted homebuilders, restorers,
warbird owners, and lovers of the classic airplane
designs, Paul resisted linking EAA to any single aviation
interest. What he understands, and why EAA succeeds,
is that EAA is not a collection of airplanes; it’s a group
of people. If you love things that fly, any kind of craft,
you have the right stuff as far as he is concerned.
It’s corny, but Paul reminds us just about every time
he speaks to a group of more than one that EAA and
aviation have “made me a millionaire. Not millions of
dollars, but millions of friends all over the world.” His
count of friends is probably understated.
Paul turns 90 this month. It’s been nearly 60 years
since he founded EAA. He still flies a little and spends
huge amounts of time mowing the acres of perfectly
kept lawn around his house on the edge of Wittman
Regional Airport in Oshkosh. He rides his shiny Harley-Davidson trike on nice days, but Audrey seems to have
gained some dispatch authority over that activity.
Paul is the most organized person I have ever
known. He can go directly to a row of filing cabinets
and instantly lay his hands on documents or mementos
from his entire life, or that of the EAA. His record-keeping diligence gives him great delight, but it is
irreplaceable information for those who will one day
condense all of that data on the formation and growth
of EAA into a document we can all learn from.
Happy 90th, President Paul; we all wish you many more
years to come. You truly have made millions of friends
All EAA members are invited to a birthday celebration
for Paul on Sunday, September 11, 2011. Paul and Audrey
will greet guests beginning at 1 p.m. in the AirVenture
Museum Founders’ Wing Library. At 3 p.m. cake will
be served. Members are encouraged to fly into Oshkosh
and park their aircraft on ConocoPhillips Plaza, where
transportation to the museum will be provided. A
museum open house will help us share our celebration
with the public. For information, call 800-236-1025.