Damn tornadoes

But the damage brings out the best in people

Tornadoes take on many forms, and are different beasts to different people. At the recent Sun ’n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Fla., the tornado was called an EF1. If you are John Burton, president of Sun ’n Fun, the tornado that hit LAL on March 31 was probably given a less-endearing name.

For my family, we got hit with another kind of tornado. This one exists inside my father’s head. My dad, known to most of you as Dave Sclair, underwent a brain biopsy on March 30. The biopsy was a success and he was home March 31. However, on April 8, the tornado took on another name — brain cancer is what the doctors call it. I call it something else, but this is a family-friendly magazine.

But let me back up just a bit. Symptoms finally showed themselves at the end of February. They were slightly slurred speech, arm and leg weakness, and blurred vision. Fearing a stroke, we talked Dad into going to the hospital on Feb. 27. The short-term good news was no stroke; the more troubling news was that of tumors on his brain.

As the countdown to Sun ’n Fun continued, we started working on Plan B. Dad and I were to work with General Aviation News editor Janice Wood creating content for the fly-in’s daily newspaper, SUN ‘n FUN Today. At first we planned on Dad not coming, then neither he nor I coming. That’s the short, short version.

At this point, I can tell you how thankful I am we belong to (not merely work in) the general aviation industry. We have many friends from the many, many years my family has been involved in GA. I called a few friends that I had made plans with, one of whom was Andrew Broom from AOPA, who immediately asked if there was anything he or AOPA could do to help. “As a matter of fact, there is,” I said. The next morning I had an email from Tom Haines, editor of AOPA Pilot, sending best wishes and prayers our way and offering whatever assistance he and the AOPA media staff could offer to SUN ‘n FUN Today. After all, as they say, the show must (and did) go on. And what a show it was.

Help from AOPA, specifically Tom Haines, Ian Twombly, Tom Horne, Chris Dancy, Bob Knill and Alyssa Miller, flowed into Janice in a controlled and helpful pace. Further help was given by freelancers Doug Hinton and Anita Infante, blogger Drew Steketee, photographers John Slemp, Ryan Cleaveland and Rob Riggen, while Larry Price, our advertising guru, covered some press conferences and helped gather news.

From Sun ’n Fun’s staff, Melissa Rankin, Jack Phelan, Kris Wharton, John Burton, Jim Bernegger, Pat Boyce, the volunteers at the media center, and Kathryn McManus all played vital roles.

Neil Glazer from PilotMall.com, Kelley Welk and Lisa Ciccia from the Lindbergh Foundation, and Jeff Touzeau, who handles PR for Sennheiser, all provided photography, and Arthur and Paulette Ward (long-time volunteers) pressed on to deliver the daily papers.

Dave Shallbetter and the crew of SNFRadio offer much needed moral support and Mary Grady from AVweb lent our intrepid editor a reporter’s notebook. (There is a story there I’m not yet privy to).

Immediately after the tornado, John (no last name, unfortunately) retrieved a chain saw to cut up the fallen trees that were blocking our cars so the staff could get back to the hotel and write the next day’s edition (there was no electricity on the Sun ’n Fun grounds at that point). James McGhee and Johnny Wood, who had been delivering the daily newspaper around the grounds the entire week, assisted in digging out cars and cleaning up some of the debris.

Throw in the tornado, along with stress from not knowing Dad’s condition, and I must say that Janice, reporter Meg Godlewski and production manager Roy McGhee went above and beyond to make sure we fulfilled our commitment to Sun ’n Fun, our advertisers, and our readers.

All I can think to say, to all of you, is…thank you. Your fingerprints are indelibly inked on my heart.

I am certain there are numerous other stories of assistance, be it labor or a sympathetic ear, from Sun ’n Fun 2011. I’d love to hear them if you know of one or are one (a story that is).

There’s no doubt the last six weeks have been surreal, culminating in seeing my Dad roll away, with tears in his eyes, to undergo a biopsy on his brain, followed just 24 hours later watching news of the tornado and its aftermath on the national news and wondering if our people at Sun ’n Fun were safe. Thankfully they were.

I don’t know what the next six to 12 months will bring, but I do know there isn’t a lick I can do about it. I’m sure there will be a few more tornadoes en route.

But this I know…you, my aviation family will be there. You already are.

So again, with tears in my eyes…thank you.

Ben Sclair is GAN’s publisher.You can reach him at Ben@GeneralAviationNews.com

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