AOPA President Craig Fuller is traveling across the country telling the general aviation story.
Just a few weeks ago, I experienced a first—awarding the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer to one of our lucky members. I hope to award many other sweeps aircraft over the years ahead, but there will only be one first time, and the experience with this year’s winner exceeded all expectations.
The day began in Atlanta. I had accepted an invitation from Dr. Peggy Chabrian to speak at the twentieth annual International Women in Aviation conference. Our sweepstakes winner, Karoline Amodeo, had been invited by AOPA Executive Vice President of Communications Karen Gebhart to attend the conference and had already won the hearts of the AOPA staff with whom she worked in our booth.
At 25, Karoline is passionate about flying and a poised, gifted communicator. She enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for flying and life and seems to spread joy and goodwill wherever she goes. A graduate of Daniel Webster College, she trained at Richmor Aviation, an FBO at Dutchess County Airport (POU) in New York. With a goal of becoming an air traffic controller, she has been accepted into training that commences later this year (see “ Wow, What a Winner”).
What struck me before the Saturday morning session started was Karoline’s energy. She truly enjoyed being in a room filled with men and women who fly. People were walking up and greeting her as a friend, even thought they had just met her at the conference. As the session began, she sat right up front, knowing only that I was going to recognize her and call her onstage to help me with a presentation.
Speaking just before the doors to the show opened downstairs, Chabrian and I both knew that we needed to hold the crowd of nearly 1,000. Chabrian said there would be a special event, and I showed the audience “the envelope,” saying there would be an important announcement at the end of my remarks.
As for my remarks, I figured they should be mercifully short since there was little chance anyone would really remember what I had said after they heard and watched me give away an airplane.
As I concluded, I asked Karoline to join me onstage. She cheerfully did so and took the microphone to share her wonderful experiences at the conference the past few days. Her refreshing story and her appreciation for having had the opportunity to spend time at the conference easily and naturally warmed the crowd.
Then I asked her to hold a model of a Piper Archer. I suggested that in doing so she could assist me in announcing the winner of AOPA’s sweepstakes airplane. She happily accepted the task of holding up the model as I slowly opened the envelope, pausing to explain that the winner would be flown aboard AOPA’s N4GA to her hometown airport later that day to see her new airplane.
Still with no idea of what was about to happen, Karoline watched me remove a card from the envelope and slowly open it so she could read her name as she heard me declare she was the winner.
As the first shock wave rolled across her face, we turned to face the jumbo screen where a live video image of her aircraft appeared, followed by her parents who stood next to the airplane to congratulate their daughter. Her parents had heard the news at the same moment Karoline learned she had won, and they were just as surprised.
When she turned back to the audience, the crowd was on its feet giving her a standing ovation. And, the congratulations and expressions of goodwill did not stop. Karoline and I walked to the AOPA booth as people continued to cheer her. She inspired all of us as she shared her joy with the knowledge that she now had her own aircraft.
A wonderful moment occurred at the AOPA booth when she spoke on the phone to her mother for the first time since learning she had won an airplane. She told her she would be flying home soon, not knowing that the word was spreading and her friends at Dutchess County were already making their way to the airport for an arrival ceremony.
She boarded our aircraft for a two-hour flight from Atlanta to Poughkeepsie. The celebration continued with our staff on board. The cheers and waving began as soon as we touched down. The temperature was just above freezing, but the crowd surrounded Karoline’s new airplane and her parents were the first to greet her as she stepped out of our airplane to see her new aircraft.
I had a chance to meet her family, her friends, and her colleagues from the airport where she had worked. All of them described Karoline’s passion for aviation and all talked about what a special person she is.
So, we could not have had a better winner. As N4GA taxied out to return to Frederick, we looked back as Karoline and AOPA’s Ian Twombly were preparing to take N208GG out for a first flight. Along with the taxi instructions from Dutchess County ground control came a hearty, “Congratulations, Karoline!”
It really does not get any better than that, to which we add, thank you, Karoline, for giving all of us a day we will always remember.
E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.