5,000 kids take flight, thanks to Oregon couple

OSHKOSH, Wis. – Only one other person has flown more kids for EAA’s Young Eagles program than volunteer pilot Larry Durst.

Since 1994, 5,000 children have taken flight with Durst. Working as a team — he flies, and his wife, Maxine, recruits — the Dursts’ relentless devotion to inspiring kids with aviation has earned the couple the 2013 Phillips 66 Aviation Leadership Award.

The couple will receive their honor at AirVenture, during its annual Young Eagles banquet, Wednesday, July 31.

Reaching 5,000 Young Eagle flights is a triumph shared by only one other pilot, Fred Stadler, based at EAA’s Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh.

“We do it for the kids, not the goal,” says Larry, a semi-retired dentist. “Some say go for 10,000. I say, I don’t care where we go. I’ll fly as long as I can.”

Larry Durst flew his 5,000th Young Eagle on June 7: Cole Brecht, 12 (far right) of Looking Glass, Ore. Also (l-r): Young Eagles Jesse Brecht, 10, and Lily Creekmore, 11.

Larry Durst flew his 5,000th Young Eagle on June 7: Cole Brecht, 12 (far right) of Looking Glass, Ore. Also (l-r): Jesse Brecht, 10, and Lily Creekmore, 11.

When Durst flies, he does it with a fervor few volunteer efforts can match. The day he flew his 5,000th Young Eagle, he took 34 kids to the skies in a refurbished 1965 Cessna 182. That large number of flights requires days of work from Maxine, who recruits, contacts and get kids available, while handling the voluminous paperwork needed.

But the Dursts, based at EAA Chapter 495 in Roseburg, Oregon, show no signs of slowing down.

“I love to fly and we love kids,” explains Larry. “I can’t combine anything better, kids and airplanes. The reaction of these kids in flight makes it all worthwhile.”

They do this year in and year out, says Durst, to get kids excited about aviation.

“I’m just a gardener; we’re planting seeds,” explains Durst. “Some seeds that you plant germinate real fast, some long term. An old guy flew me, got me started in aviation, and now I want to give kids something to think about. For free.”

The future of aviation may ride on volunteer efforts like the Dursts, explains Rosemary Leone, Programs Development, General Aviation, Phillips 66. Like Durst, Phillips 66 Aviation has supported the Young Eagles program for 20 years. Thousands of pilots have taken hundreds of thousands of kids flying using the Phillips 66 Aviation Young Eagles Rebate to offset avgas costs.

“This is a remarkable couple that has devoted so much to nurturing the country’s future interest in aviation,” Leone says.

Maxine started recruiting kids and handling the paperwork in 2003, after Larry completed “just” 330 Young Eagles flights. Once Maxine began volunteering, Larry’s Young Eagles flights took off.

“If you have a wife like I do, you can accomplish anything,” Larry says. “She’s phenomenal. She does everything, all the recruiting. Just like the postman, it doesn’t make any difference what the weather is, she’s there at the airfield. And to put up with this for 10 years!”

As any EAA Chapter will tell you, recruiting kids to fly consumes time. Maxine leverages her work with a women’s service group, Celebration of Literacy, to connect with teachers and kids at schools. Then, says Larry, she makes calls. A lot of them. It takes at least two days to find and contact families for each weekend they fly.

And then there’s the cost of making all those flights. With 12 takeoffs and landings every day they fly, tires don’t last long.

“I go through tires like poop through a goose,” says Durst.

No matter. For the Dursts, it’s all about the experience kids get.

“And the appreciation from parents,” adds Durst. “I took one girl flying who was apparently scared of heights. When we landed, she said she’s wasn’t afraid anymore. Her mother said ‘I’ve got to give you a hug,’ and I thought she was going to break every bone in my body.”

“Kids will run up and give you a big hug and squeeze,” Durst says. “You can’t buy that stuff.”

As for gardening, it’s what Durst does when he’s not flying kids or being a dentist. And like gardening, he says, sometimes you get to see your seeds grow.

Once, while visiting a nearby Oregon winery in their Model T, the Dursts were enjoying the view of the grapevines from the deck when a woman recognized him.

“She comes up to us and says ‘Dr. Durst, I know you don’t remember, but my son was 10 years old when you flew him. Now he’s an Air Force pilot and an instructor,’” shares Durst. “Now that’s something.”

For Durst, aviation grabbed his heart at a very young age.

“I’m one of those people that have been into aviation since I was a little kid, making model airplanes out of scrap wood, then stick kits when our family had a little money to spare,” he says. “When I got out of school in 1962, one of first things I did was buy a plane. That 1956 Cessna 182 was 41 years old when we saw this totally restored 1965 Cessna in 1995. So we thought, wow, let’s buy that.”

This is the couple’s third trip to Oshkosh. In 2006, Larry received the EAA Young Eagles Horizons Award – and a shout-out from actor Harrison Ford, who was the Young Eagles Chairman at the time. Ford thanked Durst for flying the 1.25 millionth Young Eagle.

“I am going to keep flying, but I have to pinch myself every once in a while to make sure I’m still vertical,” laughs Durst.

For more information: Phillips66Aviation.com/YoungEagles.

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