“Oh! You’re from Oshkosh?” It’s a common comment I hear when AirVenture attendees ask me where I’m from. It’s not a strictly accurate comment, however. No one can be from the place they still are if they’re asked that question in the place they’ve never left. Sure, there was a stint in the Air Force that took me away for a while, but I returned. And I stayed. I often ask myself why I haven’t bailed for a warmer climate, but more on that in a bit.
It doesn’t seem unusual to me to be from Oshkosh, but in late July, when Oshkosh’s population swells from 60,000 to 600,000, I am a rare bird indeed. The annual swelling, caused by aviation, started in 1970. It was brought to the area by homebuilders. It quickly spread through every facet of aviation and now Oshkosh is synonymous with aviation just as Memphis is married to Elvis and Orlando can’t divorce Disney. I became infected in 5th grade (1973). As I write this, on the eve of the eve of AirVenture 2021, I can assure you, like a predictable reaction to late July, Oshkosh is swelling again and I am fever-stricken as I hike the hot, humid grounds against every ounce of common sense. I will be threadbare by week’s end, and I will be on the grounds late on closing day to prove to myself that it happened again and that it has cleared out. Between now and then I will be working the Sonex Aircraft booth during the day and pursuing personal aviation interests each evening.
When I inventory the locals I know who are intertwined with homebuilding—or AirVenture for that matter—the number seems large. After all, Oshkosh is home to the headquarters of EAA and home field to Sonex Aircraft. But if I dig deeper, most of those people relocated to Oshkosh because of aviation. In fact, I can think of only three other local aviation enthusiasts who can take you to an Oshkosh hospital and point to the window of the room where they entered this world. They are my children. My son is celebrating his birthday today, July 24th. As he contemplated the timing of his entrance into this world 32-years ago, I waited, reading Sport Aviation and Kitplanes, while The EAA Annual Convention and Fly-in (as it was known in 1989) buzzed four miles away. All of my kids—all aviation enthusiasts—can say, “I’m from Oshkosh.”
If I’m honest with myself, airplanes and AirVenture are among the reasons I remain in Oshkosh. Sure, AirVenture is only one week a year and I could travel back each summer for the show, just as 600,000 others do, but then I’d be from Oshkosh.
On behalf of myself and my kids, welcome to Oshkosh! We enjoy your company.