2010-09-29 / Front Page

Dreams and Wings

Pilots volunteer to take special needs children on plane rides
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

North Branch’s Nadia Bemrose beams as Capt. Bill Appleberry from Warren preps his 1947 Stinson for a Dreams and Wings flight Saturday at Mayfield Township’s Dupont Lapeer Airport. Photo by PHIL FOLEY North Branch’s Nadia Bemrose beams as Capt. Bill Appleberry from Warren preps his 1947 Stinson for a Dreams and Wings flight Saturday at Mayfield Township’s Dupont Lapeer Airport. Photo by PHIL FOLEY MAYFIELD TWP. — Bundled against the chill, Ron Shamblin’s mother, aunt, cousin and great niece smiled Saturday as planeload after planeload of special needs children lifted off from Dupont Lapeer Airport.

It’s been two years since former Lapeer City Attorney Ron Shamblin passed away and 15 since he and North Branch’s Jack Lewis, a paralyzed pilot, began organizing airplane rides for special needs children.

“This is very important to us,” said Shamblin’s mother, Dorothy. “We are so pleased to see how much it has grown.”

Shamblin’s aunt, Anita Davison, noted that after a couple of years of flying with the group called the National Challengers, her nephew and Lewis formed Dreams and Wings to concentrate on special needs children in Michigan.

Judy Hillman (left) and Jack Lewis sit at the entry table where families checked in for plane rides during Saturday’s Dreams and Wings event at Mayfield Township’s DuPont-Lapeer Airport. Lewis is one of the founders of the event. Hillman was the secretary of co-founder, the late Ron Shamblin. Photo by PHIL FOLEY Judy Hillman (left) and Jack Lewis sit at the entry table where families checked in for plane rides during Saturday’s Dreams and Wings event at Mayfield Township’s DuPont-Lapeer Airport. Lewis is one of the founders of the event. Hillman was the secretary of co-founder, the late Ron Shamblin. Photo by PHIL FOLEY Dreams and Wings is a non-profit organization that provides a shared experience for the whole family as students and one or two of their family members take to the skies with an experienced pilot. The free event also provides students and families a day of fun with activities including a bounce house, crafts and refreshments.

Since its creation Dreams and Wings has held “Fly Days" in Battle Creek, Caro, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lapeer, Luzerne, Marine City, Macomb, Pontiac, Plymouth, Port Huron and Romeo as well as Fort Wayne Ind., Oshkosh Wis. and Palwaukee Ill.

Judy Hillman, who was Shamblin’s secretary for 26 years and continues to help organize the event, said the event helps special needs children focus on their possibilities in their lives rather than the limitations of their disability.

Lewis himself learned to fly after an accident on his North Branch farm left him paralyzed from the waist down.

This year’s event in Lapeer drew 10 pilots, one up from last year, but actually put fewer kids in the air. “We’re down by design,” said Lewis, explaining, last year we had 70 (kids), but this year we decided to focus on quality instead of quantity.”

Lewis said by limiting this year’s event to 53 children, pilots could spend more time with their young charges. He said that with a typical flight lasting about 20 minutes this year, depending on the model of the aircraft, participants were able to travel up to 25 miles, which in some cases meant they got to see their homes.

While this year’s event was just as cold and gray as last year, the ceiling was higher and the rain held off allowing the pilots to fly their full planned seven hours.

One of them, Bob Mahieu of St. Clair Shores, stepped from his Cessna 172 sporting a new jacket from Young Eagles, a similar program. The jacket was a reward for putting 300 kids in the air.

Dreams and Wings, said Mahieu, is “a little different because it takes the kids up with their parents. It gives them something to talk about at the dinner table.”

He said the best part of the event is the smiles on his passengers’ faces.

Don Richardson, who flew the biggest plane, a six-seat 1999 Saratoga II HP, the shortest distance to the event (from Brown City), agreed saying, “I’ve been paid really well today...I got a lot of smiles.”

For more information about the Dreams and Wings team, call Lewis at 810-688-2284 or e-mail him at captjack @bigtube.net.

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