By Kasey Richter, PR and Marketing Coordinator
One thing I’ve learned during my time at the Museum is how all-encompassing a person’s passion for aviation can be. Having had limited interaction with aviators throughout my life, it was a humbling experience to come into contact with the particular breed of person who lives for the thrill and the knowledge of the sky. No matter the aviator’s age, his or her eyes will light up when they walk through the Museum’s front doors at the sight of the massive Spruce Goose spreading its mighty wings over more than 100 unique aircraft.
Although it has a tendency to make me feel uneducated, one of my favorite things to do is walk around with visitors who have that true passion for aviation. They know intimate details of the various aircraft and engines that even after two years of working here, I would still need to double check with our curator on (who is one of these true aviation buffs who has yet to be stumped by any of the questions I’ve had).
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting one of these special visitors. His name was Richard T. Nielsen and he was a lieutenant in the Air Force during World War II. He currently resides in the Friendship House, a Marquis Companies senior living facility that is specifically dedicated to people with Alzheimer’s.
Marquis has a special program (similar to that of the Make a Wish Foundation) that is designed to create opportunities that will inspire and bring joy to its residents during what can be some of the hardest times of their lives. One of Marquis’ wonderful staff members contacted me about hosting Richard for this program. She thought that Richard and his wife Mona (a resident of a different Marquis facility) would absolutely love to visit the Museum, and she hoped it would be a positive experience for both of them. The Museum staff thought it was a great idea as well.
So on March 26, Richard and Mona, along with a few Marquis staff members traveled out to the Museum to visit. Although I’ve walked around with many special visitors before, hosting Richard and the Marquis staff was one of the highlights of my experience here. We walked/wheeled through the entire facility until we reached the main event: the B-17 Flying Fortress. Richard had been a B-17 pilot, and had actually participated in one of the largest bombing raids of World War II while flying the Flying Fortress (if you would like to read an account he wrote of his mission, please click here). We made sure to take plenty of pictures of him in front of it, and the B-17 docents were absolutely thrilled to meet someone who loved the aircraft as much as they do.
At one point during his visit, I saw Richard in his wheelchair wave to a giggling toddler in her stroller. As I watched the two of them waving to each other for a few moments, it brought me back to the Museum’s mission statement: “To inspire and educate, to promote and preserve aviation and space history, and to honor the patriotic service of our veterans.” This Museum was built to honor people like Richard and the sacrifices he made for this country, as well as to inspire today’s youth to reach for the stars. It was in this moment with Richard and the little girl that I saw our mission statement take hold.
So although I was supposed to be creating a special experience for Richard and the Marquis staff, instead they created a special experience for me.
***A cute side note: Although Richard and Mona live in separate Marquis residences, a family member who owns a limo service picks Mona up each week to visit her husband at the Friendship House.