Happy Birthday to You – October 2014

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Gary L. Vacin

Sun Lakes Aero Club member Vern Nelson first discovered aviation as a youth while watching rubber-band launched gliders flying over the California sand dunes.

During the next 90-some years, flying became a part of his every-day professional and personal life. The long-time Sun Lakes resident celebrated his 100th birthday September 14.

A native of Kamiah, Idaho, Nelson advanced from a mailroom clerk to more advanced assignments that included CEOs of a number of financial institutions. An airplane ride in 1965 led Nelson to taking flying lessons in California. Three years later, after earning a private pilot’s license and instrument rating, he purchased his first airplane, an Aeronca Champ float plane. During the next 20-some years, Nelson logged hundreds of flying hours on personal and professional trips.

He accepted a position as CEO of Southwest Savings in Phoenix in 1976. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a Beechcraft Sierra. Flying out of Sky Harbor Airport, he flew throughout the state to expedite his travel to 15 branch offices throughout the state.

In 1982, Nelson celebrated his retirement from the corporate world by taking his family on a two-week flying vacation to Alaska. He sold his aircraft two years later and eventually moved to Sun Lakes in 1986.

During the next 10 years, he satisfied his thirst for flying by renting aircraft. His logbook chronicles thousands of flight hours in various aircraft, including the Beechcraft Bonanza, Beechcraft Debonair and most single-engine Cessna models.

In 1995, Nelson helped found the Sun Lakes Aero Club (SLAC). With his corporate background, he introduced many ideas that gave structure and strength to the club. A newsletter was added, by-laws, policies and procedures were developed. Annual dues were established and officers were elected. Monthly gatherings were added with guest speakers on a wide range of aviation-related topics.

Nelson was also instrumental in developing a twice-monthly update available to members electronically. He gleaned the internet for flying-related articles and happenings from around the country for distribution in his much-anticipated update. This feature was extremely well-received by club members.

Little by little, thanks to the leadership provided by Nelson and others, SLAC evolved from an informal gathering of aviation buffs into an official Sun Lakes organization. Today the club boasts more than 80 members, including more than a dozen who own airplanes. Activities include monthly programs with guest speakers, field trips and breakfast fly-ins to nearby airports.

SLAC members are grateful to Vern Nelson for his major contributions to the club.