EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration

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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedVolunteer Spotlight: Info Services Team

Volunteers inside the General Information Services building from left: Grayling Peterson, kneeling, vice chairman, of Sandstone, Minnesota; Jim Camp, co-chairman, of Madison, Wisconsin; Bill Schneider, chairman, of Oshkosh; Gary Sternberg, co-chairman, of Oshkosh; and Lawrence Gunderson, co-chairman, of Ishpeming, Michigan. Ray Fiset, Quebec City, Canada, who started the information booth more than 50 years ago, sits in front.

One woman from Italy lost her international cell phone. Another woman from Australia lost her camera's memory card, filled with her family's entire U.S. vacation. Both were turned in at AirVenture's General Information Services, which includes lost and found.

"We had the phone back to its owner in two hours," says co-chairman Gary Sternberg of Oshkosh. "She broke down in tears when we told her we had it." Chairman Bill Schneider, also of Oshkosh, adds, "People think their items will be gone forever, but this is Oshkosh." And that says it all. Oshkosh isn't just known as the largest gathering of aviation enthusiasts, but it is also known for its clean grounds and friendly and helpful people.

The General Information Services building is one of the busiest buildings on the EAA AirVenture grounds, receiving 500-1,000 phone calls a day plus hundreds of visitors stopping by. But the group that mans it has years of experience and can answer just about any question visitors come up with. With one exception.

"People want to know where they can see the stars right now," says Ray Fiset of Quebec City, Canada, who has only missed three of the 56 EAA conventions. He didn't know about EAA until the third event, and last year he had open-heart surgery. Fiset has been wheelchair-bound for more than 40 years, after lunging to prevent a man from walking into a spinning propeller.

Fiset has gotten a variety of questions throughout the years, some downright amusing. "Once, someone asked me where the porta-potties were when he was leaning against one," he recalls.

But otherwise, there are no common questions. "Everybody is looking for something - a display, a vendor, a plane. This place is so huge and spread out, they've learned to ask first instead of walking all over the place."

Fiset started the booth more than 50 years ago when the convention was held at Rockford, Illinois, with a card table and a beach umbrella. He says he started it out of need. "I saw people wandering about wondering about this or that," he says. Back in those early days of the fly-in convention, if you saw a need, you pitched in and helped.

Today General Information Services is located between the International Visitors Tent and the old FAA control tower. Fiset said the building is the oldest on the grounds, and was the original registration building. While the building has never changed its location, it has changed its direction. "It used to face east/west, but now it faces north-south," he says.

Schneider says the Communication Center added another phone line this year to their building, allowing for separate lines for information and lost and found. All the calls that come in about the fly-in convention during the week come in to their building.

But the group doesn't just answer questions. As people walk throughout the vast grounds, they also drop and lose items. "The most common thing we get (turned in) these days is cell phones," says Schneider. But in the past people have turned in passports, cash, a glass eye and a backpack porta-potty used for toddlers who are potty training, says Sternberg.

They also end up with a lot of lost adults and children.

"We used to keep candy to keep the kids happy while they waited for their parents," says Fiset. "But those little devils got wise and they got lost on purpose."

These days they keep coloring books to keep the little ones happy until their parents are found.

Although the 2008 event is over, the group is already looking forward to next year. "It just went by too fast," Schneider says. "It seems like we were just getting here and setting up and it's over."

Fiset agreed. "Oshkosh is like a big family reunion."

And here's to next year's reunion.


FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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