Unedited copy as submitted for the July 23, 2001 issue of Airventure Today.
Around the Field
by Jack Hodgson

Their Mascot is Gumbo the Squirrel

AirVenture is a little bit like New York City in that it's so big it's hard to appreciate it as a whole. Instead you need to look at it as many individual neighborhoods. One of those neighborhoods is the "Cajun Condo", located in the woods near the Vintage Parking area.

Joe Champagne is the mayor of this particular neighborhood, although some of his buddies might say ‘mostly benevolent dictator'. Joe has been organizing this group of campers for 24 years. They've pitched their tents in the same spot for the past 18 years. They come from all over the country and even the world. Flag from many of their home states and nations hang along the front corner of the site.

The group varies in size from year to year, as various members skip a year here and there, but many of them have been with Joe for over 20 years. Joe estimates there are about 50 in the settlement this year, though it's been as high as 75 in the past.

Part of the Cajun Condo tradition is their big annual party. One night each year Joe will cook up a big batch of his legendary Gumbo. "I borrow two 25 gallon pots from the local National Guard Armory and we cook it up here at the campsite. Last year we used 35 chickens, 50 big links of sausage flown in from New Orleans, as well as lots of other secret ingredients."

Invitation to the big Gumbo feast is by word of mouth, and it invariably draws a big crowd. This year though, Joe's decided to give the Gumbo a rest and will be fixing Red Beans and Rice instead.

Joe flies a King Air for the San Juan Regional Hospital, but he made the trip to Wittman Field this year in a more modest aircraft. He flew his Champ for 17.5 hours, making 14 stops, from his home in Farmington, New Mexico. If you see him, ask him about the close encounter that the seat of his pants had with a barbed wire fence during one of those stops.

Because it's big. Mike Gehrmann and his 7 year old son Joe are sitting at a picnic table near the ultralight area during the daily airshow. Joe is eating french fries and watching the aerobatics.

"We live in Brooklyn Wisconsin," says Mike, "which is just south of Madison. We just drove up for the day to see the show."

"I have a Private Pilot license but I haven't flown in awhile. I'm looking around here because I'd like to find an older plane that we could afford, to take the family on short trips. I kind of like the Wag Aero Sportsman 2+2. It's like a Tri-Pacer."

This is Mike's fifth visit to AirVenture. For young Joe it's his second time here. He was last here was three years ago when he was four.

"Last time he was here the pedal airplanes were a big hit. We couldn't get him out of it."

This year Joe's equally clear about his favorite. "I like the C-17, because it's big!"

Growing up at the Oshkosh Fly-In. "I've been flying since before I could see over the glare-screen. Flying with my Dad. I was flying IFR ‘cause the instruments were all I could see. But I loved it." Mike "Gorilla" Goransky is telling us about his introduction to flying.

Mike came to his first Oshkosh Fly-In in 1970 when he was 15 years old. "I flew gliders at 14, I flew in the military, for U.S Airways, and now I'm into the Replica Fighters." In the Air National Guard Mike flew C-130s, A-7s and F-16s.

These days, in addition to U.S. Airways, he flies his 1962 V-Tail Bonanza, and is building a Stewart-51. He's dividing his time at AirVenture this year between the Replica Fighter clubhouse and talking with other S-51 builders at the Precision Aero Engineering tent.

Mike says, "I've been flying for as long as I can remember and I just can't imagine doing anything else."

In the 30+ years he's been coming to Oshkosh he's seen a lot of things. "Once, a lot of years ago, we were here a month early doing setup for the fly-in. It was a hot, hot day and we were working near the edge of the field. Paul Poberezney comes on by and asks us how things are going."

"'Pretty good,' we say. ‘But we sure could use something to get us motivated.'"

"'I'll see what I can do,' Paul says."

"Well, we return to work and a little bit later we hear a Merlin engine in the distance. We run out and see Paul's Mustang make a screamin' low pass and sharp banking turn right over our heads."

"Later Paul drives by again and says, 'Hey, you guys.'"

"'Yes Sir,' we say."

"'You motivated yet?'"