Our many RAF supporters have such vast and varied experience, and we’re capturing some of their words of wisdom to share with you. This month’s guest editorial is by Andy Turner, a pilot, aquatic ecologist, and longtime friend of the RAF.
Growing Up With The RAF:
I recently rousted Joshua and Caleb, my two teenage sons, out of bed early on a rainy Sunday morning. The task at hand was cutting and stacking firewood at the campground we are developing at our local airport. Getting teenage boys out of bed on a Sunday morning to go work in the rain might seem nearly impossible, but Josh and Caleb got up without complaint, found breakfast, and spent a few satisfying hours wielding chainsaws and stacking wood. I think my success in getting them rolling on this job, and our successes in navigating the complexities of raising teenagers, might be traced in part back to a camp some 14 years earlier in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
It was the summer of 2009. My wife, Sharon, and I loaded our 15-month-old twins into the back seat of the family hauler, a Cessna 172, and flew to northern Montana from our home in Pennsylvania. Looking back, flying two children across the country in the back seat of a 172 was a bit crazy, but dealing with twins will make a person resort to extreme measures. We set up camp at Schaffer Meadows and felt a bit sorry for our fellow campers who had to put up with the antics of two toddlers. Among the campers were most of the RAF Directors, then a fledgling organization working to sharpen its focus. John McKenna and crew were discussing strategic directions over a campfire but graciously invited us, toddlers and all, to join them. We shared meals and stayed up late sharing stories. I have fond memories of Tim Clifford bouncing Josh on his knee, with Josh laughing in the way only a 15-month-old child can. We enjoyed a wonderful week hiking the mountains and resolved to fly west each summer for a week or two of hiking, fishing, and catching up with friends.
Fast forward 14 years to June 2023. Josh, Caleb and I are camped at Meadow Creek, part way through our annual adventure of long hikes through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The first hike, a three-day backpack trip towards Silvertip Mountain, ended earlier than we had planned, turned back by deep snow on the ridge lines. I gave my sons a list of options as to how we could spend the coming weekend. The conversation ended when they heard that the annual Ryan Field work party was one of the options, as they both insisted on helping out. We made the short hop over to Ryan where they woke up early on Saturday morning and spent the day happily cutting firewood, clearing brush, painting, and mowing grass. Most of all, we enjoyed sharing a dinner table and campfire with old friends and meeting new friends. We traded stories of flying, mountain adventures, and reflected on memories. On the surface of it, you might think that we are building an airport, but look a little closer, and you will see that we are building friendships and community. Ryan Field benefited from our labors, but we all emerged from the experience grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something larger than ourselves.
There is a straight line connecting our early experiences at Schaffer with the growth of two hard working young men, eager for mountain adventures and eager to volunteer for community service, and the line runs right through the RAF. Raising teenagers in 2023 isn’t a simple task and I often turn to trusted friends for help. I employ a simple recipe: find a challenging activity, assign my sons a task on that activity working side by side with folks I admire and respect, and let what happens, happen. In our family the activity often involves hunting or fishing, and we have a close knit “outdoors family” of friends that have mentored Joshua and Caleb from a young age under the guise of flyfishing or bird hunting. Aviation is a huge part of our lives too and we are fortunate that our RAF family has provided valuable mentorship. The RAF is an important part of our family because it embodies traits we teach our children: politeness, persistence patience, and humility. Further, the RAF seems to attract people who are uniformly hard working, kind, generous, and good humored. Josh and Caleb have spent many hours over the years working on projects side by side with our RAF family, quietly absorbing the examples of their character, and I can see how those experiences have helped shape them into the people they are. Thus, Josh and Caleb carry a bit of the RAF influence with them in all they do and are. As a parent, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Andy has been a pilot for nearly 40 years and flies a RV-10 that he built to carry his family on long cross-country trips. Using their airplane to access the backcountry, Andy and his sons have climbed a number of high peaks in wilderness areas including the Bob Marshall of Montana, the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and the mountains of Colorado. Andy is an aquatic ecologist and holds a faculty position at Pennsylvania Western University, where he spends much of his time conducting research and training students in stream ecology and fisheries biology. In addition to his work as RAF Pennsylvania Liaison, Andy holds leadership positions with his local chapter of Trout Unlimited and his county conservation district.
Submitted on September 27, 2023.