Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Doesn't anyone want to fly anymore?

At the tail end of a segment on our being a nation of dreamers on MPR's Midmorning yesterday, I did a short interview with host Kerri Miller on the week at Oshkosh. It starts at 45:48.

Kerri asked whether kids are still interested in flying and so I relayed an anecdote from a friend who flies Young Eagle flights at Oshkosh (Young Eagles takes kids for their first airplane ride to try to get them interested in flying). He called me Thursday because he had a seat available and wanted to know if I'd like it. I couldn't because I had an interview scheduled but how is it with so many kids around Oshkosh this week, no enough wanted to go flying? And what does that say about the future of general aviation?

My interview was with Ray LaHood, the U.S. secretary of transportation. He was giving me the usual rote answers that were uninspiring, if not borderline patronizing.

"Did you ever want to learn how to fly?" I finally asked.

"Me?" he said. "Oh no!" He then relayed all of the aspects of general aviation that are stereotypes of why we shouldn't fly -- he was too old, too risky etc. All of them, of course, are wrong. But it's hard to have confidence in a transportation vision and a secretary who says "the administration is 100% behind general aviation" who has never harbored the dream to take flight and look down.

Kerri also asked about the DC3s at Oshkosh. A lot of them didn't show up, I told her, because of the conditions of the field. But look at this beauty that was at Aeroshell Square. This is why I bought a little aluminum polish at Oshkosh (I spent a total of about $20 on airplane stuff this week, a record low for me, even for me).

 Click on the image for a larger and more beautiful view. There are reasons not to go with polished aluminum on my RV airplane -- paint hides mistakes, they say -- but when you look at a plane like this, it's hard not to think about the option.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Ardy and Ed's

It's not really Oshkosh until we've stopped at Ardy and Ed's drive-in for lunch, which was today's mission. That's Darwin Barrie and me. Glenn Brasch took the photo. I don't know why son, Michael, isn't in this.

Ardy and Ed's sits on the approach end of runway 27 at Oshkosh. As we waited for our food, sitting outside, we saw a B-17 approaching from a distance and it went directly over us.

There is, probably, no place else in the world where people today waited for their root beer floats while a B-17 passed directly over head.

Tonight we had the annual RV gathering. It was great to see Mario Nolte from Germany, and Linda and Terry Frazier from Nevada, and Bob Kelly and his wife from Indiana, and Ben Schneider did a great job putting it on. Also attending was Brad Oliver (who took some unbelievable night shots which I'll get a link to soon), and Chad Jensen and his dad, Jeff. And Bill Wightman of Terminal Tool fame. And Jeff Pointe, Darwin, Glenn, Michael, Don Hall, Rich Emery, and it's always great to see Larry Frey, who's coming up to Minneapolis after Oshkosh for some transition training with my pal, Tom Berge.

Tomorrow, I have an interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and then it's probably time to come home.

Oshkosh Diary: A wedding in the North 40

I've seen some cool things in the years I've been coming to Oshkosh, but I haven't seen anything as outstanding as tonight's wedding in the North 40 of Michael Regen and Karen Benitez.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Meeting the neighbors

So far, this has been an "uncomfortable" Oshkosh, not in the sense that there's a lot of mud and all, but that it feels like it does when someone has moved the furniture around. While the AirVenture grounds feature the usual "been there, done that" vibe (I'm seeing very little I'd describe as remarkable for the homebuilder), out here in Camp Scholler, things are chaotic.

The grounds have dried out fine, but if you come here for years at a time, you usually end up in the same spot. It's comfortable. You know where to find people and people know where to find you. Not this year.

Fortunately, I've been able to connect with buddy Glenn Brasch and his son, Michael, and RV pal Darwin Barrie, who I'm pretty sure is now convinced I'm building a ghetto RV-7A. He's probably right, which is one reason I've decided never to fly it over here.But lots of other people I usually visit with are scattered to the wind.

In the meantime, Camp Scholler always offers an opportunity to meet the neighbors. This morning, for example, I met Alex and Benny, who are from "west of St. Cloud." Benny is a homemade wine afficianado so I've been invited to stop over this evening for a glass of his 2008 vintage. We'll see.


I'm not sure what the significance of this is, but I passed a display in one of the exhibit halls of beautifully carved airplanes of every model. The only one that's been cut to rock-bottom, is the RV line. The RV-8 models were also on sale.


There was a time when if you ran into someone wearing a Van's shirt or some other signal that they've built an RV airplane, you could instantly strike up a conversation. There weren't that many of them. Now, because of their popularity, they're everywhere. And the RV community -- singular -- has got pretty fractured. The RV-10 is for the monied, family crowd (not that there's anything wrong with that), the RV-12 seems to be for the older gen (getting there), and the RV-9s and RV-7s and RV-8s in between are for a very diverse crowd.

In other words, there really isn't an RV community anymore. It's no longer unusual to run into someone else building their own RV airplane and when you do, it isn't any more (or less) special than if you run into any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who live here for a week. What the community has in common -- building RV airplanes -- isn't really that significant as it once was. Sure, it's great to put faces to names of people you run across online; no doubt about that. And it's always great to see old friends, but there's 6,000 flying RVs now and probably another 20,000 under construction somewhere. As any city that grows past a certain point knows, larger communities split into smaller ones, and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the larger group.


I'm using my son's old bike during Oshkosh. Fortunately, it's a mountain bike so it's good in mud. But here's a tip: Keep a detailed note of where you parked your bike at Oshkosh.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Oshkosh: Top signs you haven't left your real world

You not only bring a lawnmower, you use it to mow the grass around your campsite.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oshkosh Diary - Back to normal?

Anybody who has ever brought their little kids to Oshkosh recognizes this picture. It's Oshkosh in the campground. Kids doing what kids to; parents doing what parents do. Sure, the adults -- some of them -- are kvetching about the conditions here, but they're actually getting back to normal.

The main roads around the campground are now in pretty good shape, and the side roads -- through the fields actually -- no longer present a squishy "I'm crossing the Delaware" sound. True, they're still a mud bog, but all those pictures you've been seeing are starting to create a somewhat exaggerated pictures. Yes, there are still long lines of campers that can't get in. Yes, there are still rich people's toys who are camping on the roads. But there was a goodly amount of dust being generated around the campground today.

You watch, in a few days, some people will be complaining about that.

I have no idea -- and don't care that much -- what the situation is with people flying in. Jeff Point, who handles parking for RV airplanes, has been doing a great job of keeping people up to date on that on Van's Air Force.

My good friend, Warren, was supposed to fly over here from Minneapolis today. But the information about who can land here and who can't has been wildly inconsistent. He says he listened to the controllers at Fisk telling people nobody was landing. So he landed in Necedah and called me. I told him "you don't want to be here." Not with an airplane, and not sitting on the ground somewhere with the sun going down.

So he's opted to fly back and spend the evening with better company and a bottle of wine. Good choice.


The EAA has wisely -- in my opinion -- given up on the idea of providing roaming wiFi around the campground. Instead, it's built small shacks all around AirVenture where people can connect. This is a good thing. Yes, it's a bit of a pain in the neck -- in a 2010 way of thinking -- to ride a bike to a hotspot. But I admit to being discomforted by seeing so many people last year sitting in their tent in the evening, playing on the computer. The place to be is outside meeting people.


The radio broadcasts began this evening and continue through AirVenture. My guess is more people listen around the world than at Oshkosh. It seems like a great group of people, all of whom could be my son or daughter. Many are students at St. Cloud State.

I've done a few interviews, as previous posts have shown, and for the most part I'm opting to dump them onto the kids, so they can write and produce the material. That's what they're hear for. I don't need my name plastered on a piece, although I do intend to do one or two.

The young journalists are part of a class at St. Cloud State University. It's nice to see that people are still interested in the art and the sooner they can get into the business, and the sooner the people predicted its demise can get out of it, the better off the world will be. I'm just glad they're letting me play along with them for a few days.

As I type this, they're one minute away from beginning the broadcast of tonight's program at Theater of the Woods. Throughout AirVenture -- and beyond -- you can listen here.


Canon, the camera company, has lent out huge cameras to just plain folk in recent years. It was a great promotion, and the cameras the size of Montana are the only way just plain folk will ever take great pictures. A sign on their building door today, however, said something like "due to worldwide demand, we're not handing out cameras this year." This, of course, is the type of gibberish that earns a public relations student a good grade.

Brazil to Oshkosh

Three RV-10s are sitting at show center at this year's  Oshkosh. Their pilots have earned the honor. They flew from Brazil to attend their first AirVenture.  It took eight stops and six days, according to Victor Yancovitz, right, a former airline pilot.

None of the airplanes was made by the pilots. In Brazil, companies are allowed to make kit aircraft, and then sell them to customers, Yancovitz says.  "Brazil is very strict about homebuilding. In the United States, you can make your aircraft, and go fly. There (Brazil),  it's very restrictive. You must be approved by an engineer."

Antonio Nallin's RV-10, which was made in Sao Paulo,  features extended fuel tanks. Three 150-liter tanks

Extended range tanks installed increased the size. Three 150-liter tanks (about 39 gallons) give the RV-10s a range of about 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Nallin says he likes to upgrade airplanes but doesn't like the idea of flying a light-sport category plane. He previously owned an RV-9 which is considered an ultralight in Brazil.  He was the first Brazilian pilot to cruise over  the Andes Mountains in an ultra-light five years ago. "It was a great adventure," said Nallin.

"He's a crazy man," counters Yancovitz.

Yancovitz says he's excited about the RV-12 and other light airplanes. "I've flown for  45 years," he said. "Boeings, DC8 , Airbus, everything. I love flying. When I retired I stopped flying commercial in 2001.  I have to keep my medical every six months. With the ultralight, it's every two years. All of my licenses have expired -- commercial, ATP, private, they've all expired. Now we have a license to fly ultralights. For me, the smaller aircraft is enough."

Love and the airplane builder

All love starts in France. Or aboard the Ford TriMotor.

Just ask RV-7 builder and RV-4 owner Michael Regen of Maryland, who proposed to Karen Benitez a year ago on a flight aboard the Ford TriMotor at AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh. "As we took off and I was able to get out of my seat, and propose to Karen."

She said yes. "I was actually looking out the window when all of this was going on, because I was somewhat irritated with him before we got on the Ford Trimotor and it almost didn't happen. I was staring out the window, grumbling to myself. I turned around, and there he was."

The two actually met as kids, thanks to their parents. "Our parents were stationed together in France before we were born, and they always kept in touch," Karen says. "We always saw pictures and what everyone is doing. I come from a family of three girls and he comes from a family of three boys."

"We always used to fight over who got to sit next to Karen when we were kids," says Michael.

The two will be married in the North 40 on Tuesday under a tent put up by the Bonanza airplane group.

"It's vacation time. It's relaxed, and you can't be around a greater group of (mostly) guys," according to Karen, who had the idea of getting married at Oshkosh. She figured most of the couple's friends are in the area, although when we talked on Sunday, Michael was trying to find a workaround to a canceled Delta Airlines flight that was to bring two of his children to Oshkosh. They'll fly to Appleton instead.

"We've been sweating for the last few days because there was a chance the Bonanza people weren't going to be able to fly in," Michael said. "Fortunately, things worked out."

Regen built an RV-7 a few years ago but has sold it in favor of an RV-4. "They both have their little nuances, but I couldn't pick which one I like better. The 7A was a great airplane."

But he says his soon-to-be bride tops any plane. "Karen's wearing half an RV-7 on her finger," he said.


I awoke fairly early this morning, looked out the tent and saw this...

 The line from yesterday afternoon was gone; I don't know where it went, I've seen no indication anyone was allowed into the campground at AirVenture. But it was replaced by another line that stretches about a mile down the road. It's not moving and it doesn't appear it's going to move anything soon.

After breakfast, I went out and talked to some of the people. Unfortunately I've left everyone's names on a notepad back in the card, but I'll update the post later. I also am having difficulty getting the audio off a Compact Flash card, so I can't provide that right now, either. Really, what good am I?

I do know that this is Nate, he's from Worthington, Mass., and he flies for Continental. He and a couple of friends from the Berkshires (who didn't want to be identified but we exchanged some Berkshire County connections) drove all night from Massachusetts, and pulled into line at 5:30 this morning.

Nate was in pretty good spirits; he's been coming here since the '80s and didn't seem to mind waiting in line much. His colleagues are on their first trip to Oshkosh.

This gentleman is from my neck of the woods -- Oakdale, Minnesota. He's ex-Army where he flew helicopters and he's looking forward to evaluating some of the kit helicopters. He says EAA could've done a better job of posting signs that say "go home." As he understands it, EAA is going to organize a caravan to the parking lot at at the University of Wisconsin Duluth, where they'll drop their trailers. What happens after that, I don't know, and this isn't official so don't quote me.

This group is from St. Louis, the president and vice president of EAA Chapter 32 in St. Louis (on the right). David Doherty and his son, William Doherty. David proudly points out he was born on the day the EAA was formed in the basement of Paul Poberezny's Wisconsin home.

The people on the left are all from Australia. David and Rae (again, I'll get the particulars on the names later), are here for his 60th birthday. They've been traveling in the states for seven weeks and are now taking in Oshkosh and all its, at least for now, inaction.

I asked David -- Aussie David -- for his favorite flying experience and he reports that it came just a few weeks ago when he flew over the desert in Australia and found everything to be green, which apparently rarely happens. Everything's green in Wisconsin, too.  I told him if he got tired of making camp on a frontage road, the biggest ball of twine in the world is but a few hours away. He seemed appropriately unimpressed.

Last night, I had dinner with Darwin Barrie, and Glenn and Michael Brasch, and the pal I know only as "Tom the Camp Locator Shack Guy," and Jeff Point, who is the master parker of RV aircraft.  Jeff says the "phrase that pays" this week is, "I've never seen anything like this before," and describes the situation as a "Biblical flood." He says at this point, organizers are just "making it up as we go." There's no long-term plan, because people are just trying to figure out what to do in the short term.

They can't even park cars for people coming in today (although AirVenture officially opens tomorrow) because the fields they use for the parking lot are too wet.

EAA officials have fanned out around Camp Scholler, telling people they can't drive their cars once they set up camp; they have to walk the half mile or so to a shower or the store or wherever. The cars are simply carving up the field.

That wouldn't be such a  bad thing if the camp shuttle buses were running, but I haven't seen them yet and if they are running, they're going to have a difficult time because of all the big land yachts parked along the road.

And the owners of those rigs aren't sacrificing much. Even though people need to use the road, those that have living rooms that extend out the side, are deploying them, carving up more of the road. Thanks for taking one for the team, rich folks. Stay classy.

I did hear this morning from my favorite vendors -- Jerry Hansen and the gang from Trio Avionics, who were driving in to set up their shop. Hopefully, we'll be able to get together for dinner as we always try to do.

My friend, Warren Starkebaum, is due to fly over from Crystal Airport (Minneapolis) today. I left him a message saying "you don't want to be here."

Normally on Sunday, one can pass the time pulling up a chair by the runway and watching the mass arrivals. But there are no mass arrivals because there's simply no place to park them. There will be soon, Jeff hopes, but there are going to be large sections that simply won't hold the weight of airplanes this week.

The big fly-in of DC-3s has been canceled. They take up too much parking space on the ramp, space that has to be reserved for smaller planes.

(Click on the images to see larger ones and to see what's cut off from the smaller ones posted here.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oshkosh Diary - July 24, 2010

It's a lovely evening in Camp Scholler at AirVenture 2010 in Oshkosh... as long as you're looking up. Glance anywhere else, and you're looking at a looming disaster, at least for a few days until things dry out.
They've had over 10 inches of rain here since the beginning of the month and it shows. The little creek where I usually camp is running like the Mississippi.

Out on the frontage road, at least a mile long line of RVs (the kind on wheels) are stalled. They're not letting them in and some EAA people are going RV to RV handing out water. Inside Camp Scholler, only tenters are setting up. The RVs and other big units are mostly parking on the roadways and setting up there. It's a nightmare.

I looked at the EAA Radio compound where I was going to set up and decided that -- at least for tonight -- I'd head for high ground. I'm out on Second Street, which is a healthy stone's throw from the highway. But it's not standing water and my standards for comfort got lowered considerably. Tomorrow, perhaps, I'll move in with my broadcasting friends.

As for airplanes, I've seen very few fly in. Michael Regen is here. I'll be doing a story on him and his soon-to-be bride. He's parked his RV on the tarmac near the FBO until they start parking planes on grass.

His wedding on Tuesday will be in the North 40. Here's what the North 40 looks like right now.

And here's what it looks like in the campground:

The spot I'm at is working out fine for now. I'm half-deaf so maybe the truckers blowing their horns in the middle of the night won't bother me as much. But I come over here mostly to socialize and there isn't much of that out here. People don't walk by on their way to somewhere else. Out here, you've got a golf cart or a car to get where you need to go.

Glenn Brasch, his son Michael, and Darwin Barrie were setting up their site across from where they used to be near the camp locator shack. I almost got the car stuck when I stopped to say "hello." I now have a generous coating of mud on it.

There's no working wiFi yet. This year, EAA has built small buildings around the area as wiFi hotspots, which I presume means you won't be able to sit in your tent and watch Hulu this year. Good. But it doesn't appear to be turned on yet.

So I'm down at Starbuck's where a barrista who used to live on St. Paul's East Side asked me if I'm in town for the air show. "Do I scream 'air show'?" I asked. 
"No," she said, "it was your TCF Bank card. But, you know, you fly people are pretty well dressed. Usually we get beer guts and sandals in here. I was wearing muddy sneakers and a T-shirt. I chose not to show here my beer gut.

I suppose I could've pursued it and ended up at the point I dread ("you pilots are all rich."), but I'm tired and I still have to work up the energy get over to WalMart and navigate around the -- apparently -- Starbucks customers.

Drop a note if you have questions or comments and we'll be conversing here during the week.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On to Oshkosh

(I'll be posting Oshkosh dispatches this week both here and my other blog -- Letters From Flyover Country)

Got in from a quick trip through Boston this afternoon and immediately headed for the hangar and packed the car for the trip to Oshkosh. There was quite a bit of activity with amphibs -- more so than usual, since Wipaire is on the field -- but driving out I saw this beauty.

I'm not one of the people who can identify every airplane out there on sight, I just know that that's a mighty fine job of polishing aluminum.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to expect at Oshkosh this year. It's been raining -- hard. They got about 7 inches of rain yesterday, I understand.

I hate mud.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jennifer's eulogy

The hardest part about writing a eulogy isn't the words -- although they're frequently no picnic -- it's getting it right. You don't give a eulogy for yourself, but the person you're eulogizing is the one others know too, and you don't want to end with someone wondering if you're talking about the same person they knew. And you want people who didn't know a person, to have a clear idea what they missed.

The best part about being able to write an obituary and a eulogy -- as I did this week for my niece, Jennifer -- is that it's something I can do. We often say to people, "I wish there was something I can do." It's very satisfying being able to do something.

A few people at Minnesota Public Radio covered for me on very short notice this week when my brother asked me to handle the task on Monday.  I needed all of Tuesday to think about all the possible ways of putting it together, and most of Wednesday to start writing.

I spent a fair amount of time this week talking to my twin brother, Bill, trying to be sure that Jennifer came through properly in the final words. I hope she did. She was a heck of a kid. He's a heck of a father and brother. And I never want to give another one of these again.

One of the last times I saw Jennifer was at the Cape. She asked me about writing. I think she was just getting interested in poetry. And she said "I know what I want to say, but I have a hard time getting started with the words."

I was tempted to give her the advice a colleague gave to me once, which was "all good writing begins and ends with a great cigar," but, you know, that really didn't seem to fit the occasion. So I gave the answer I've given to others who have asked me a similar question over the years.

"Don't worry about the words in your head. Think about what you have in your heart, and the words... will take care of themselves later."

This is a time, of course, when words fail. Thirty-one year old women aren't supposed to die. Our heart says life should be more fair even though our head knows that it's quite often not. Things are the way they are.

So we look instead to what's in the heart and we hope that the words take care of themselves... later.

Jennifer was born with spina bifida, and there was no getting around it. It deprived her of what many of us would consider a normal life; it certainly deprived her of a long life. It was hard, of course, on her. It was hard on her parents. It was hard on her brothers. It was hard on everybody who loved her, and it was hard on everybody who love the people who loved her.

In many ways, though, her affliction is what sewed the threads that bind many of us to the point where we're here today. It is a part of whom many of us are -- and what many of you still will turn out to be.

Her affliction might have prevented her from doing some things, but it did not keep her from being a better friend than most people have. It didn't keep her from laughing or needing to see you laugh too. It didn't keep her from being honest in her thought.

In an e-mail during the time she was in the hospital most recently, my brother relayed the story of an intensive care unit nurse who said she was having a hard time sleeping thinking about Jennifer. On the one hand, that was no doubt terrifying because ICU nurses see things fairly regularly that most of us don't, and if they're staying up at night worrying, what are the rest of us to do? At the same time, it was indicative not only of the compassion she had, but also of Jennifer's ability to sew a thread into the heart of those who knew her... even for a few days.

Jennifer's life was short, but here's the thing: As smart as we like to think we are, we really don't understand the concept of time very well. When we're very young, 31 seems old. When we're 56, 31 seems young. Same age...both young,and old. How can it be both?

When they were young, my brother took Jennifer and my other niece, Sara, to DisneyWorld. Thirteen times, they rode through the "It's a Small World" ride. Thirteen times, Bill reported to me, it was as wondrous for Jen as the first.

For Jennifer, time was passing so quickly -- so wondrously -- that it took 13 times to make a moment. I guarantee for everyone else on that ride, by number six or seven -- or maybe sooner -- time had never moved so slowly.

My brother told me that Jennifer did not have the same sense of time passing that the rest of us do. That's a luxury she had that we do not because it allowed her to live her life in her happiest moments.

She loved Christmas; she loved Christmas lights. She loved driving with her mom, and her brother, Will, to look at them.

But she was afraid of Santa Claus. She instructed her parents to leave a window open and leave him a note. "Just throw the presents through the window," she said. "Don't come in the house." The Easter Bunny was equally suspect.

Jennifer loved planning to give gifts. She sent me a note on Facebook last fall. "What's your favorite color and what do you like most?" she asked, a question she often asked people. "Blue, and airplanes," I said.

She was kind of bossy because her next message said that she had selected me to be in charge of getting the list from everybody in the family. She wanted to make a quilt, I guess, with the squares with everyone's favorite color and some design or illustration about their favorite thing.

So I did, because if nothing else, Jennifer is a Collins woman and you don't want to get on their bad side. But when I reported everyone's results back, there were too many people with a favorite color of blue. "Go back and get their second-favorite color," she said and I did before she decided she'd wait on the quilt project until people could get it together and diversify their favorite colors.

She loved to crochet and one of her proudest achievements was the blanket she made for her brother, Erik, when he was born. And there are pillows and blankets in many of your homes, each with your favorite color.

She loved games as anyone on Facebook with a bucketload of Farmville messages from her will attest. She loved puzzlebooks on the beach, playing Yahtzee,and cribbage. She loved playing the games with Dan, and Will and Erik, and all her cousins. She loved winning.

She did a lot things, thanks to the people who were around her. She caught a fish the size of Connecticut once, she bounced around Provincetown in a dune buggy. She'd build a sand castle as long as you did all the dirty stuff, like touching wet sand. Or carve pumpkins as long as you got the gross junk out of it. Then she'd tell you you could've been quicker about it.

She'd float in a pool and then in the water of the Cape Cod Bay with her grandparents.

She loved dogs, especially Zelda, Domino and Nute. Dogs know certain things. Dogs know the goodness of people's souls, and Jen understood theirs. Zelda, Domino, and Nute put themselves between Jennifer and whatever could hurt her.

For someone who was so good at listening, she sure loved to talk. She loved the family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas, mostly because she could spend the time with the other kids. You've never heard such noise as when the Collins and Stickney kids got together.

But she was a listener, too.  You can tell a lot about people by the way they listen. When you talked. Jennifer smiled.

So it was only natural that she volunteered as a companion at a nursing home, she volunteered at the Gardner VNA. She was taking online courses with the notion that someday she might be a psychologist. Not only would she have been a good one. She WAS a good one.

Jennifer was what so many people are not.

Jennifer was authentic.

My sister, Cheryl, wrote the other day that she wishes she'd spent a little more time visiting with her; that she -- perhaps like you, is feeling a little guilty about that. Sometimes Jen would call four times on the same subject, she says, and sometimes you just let the phone ring through on the fifth time.

"The fact that she called us at all was testament that we were important to her, even if she didn’t say so," my sister wrote. "It is not important whether you answered the phone that 5th time. So remember you all did make a difference in her life," she said.

Jennifer was our granddaughter. Our daughter. Our sister. Our niece. Our cousin. Our friend. Our companion.  She was my god-daughter.

You are pieces of all the people you encounter in your life. In each of us there are threads that the life of Jennifer Collins stitched, some of which have yet to reveal themselves to you. But they will. You are somehow different because of those threads. You raised her, you protected her, you played with her, you argued with her, you laughed with her, you sacrificed things in your life for her, you lay awake at night worrying about her, and because of all of that, you are different -- you are better -- than you would be if you had not.

Those threads she sewed, you are now sewing too.

Jennifer didn't make that quilt of everyone's favorite colors. But she's not done yet. Because neither are you. Even now, at this moment, you are creating new chapters, because Jennifer has brought you all here today.

When the words fail, just think about what you have in your heart. The ache you feel, the happiness you feel, the satisfaction you feel, the guilt you feel, the anger you feel, is the voice of Jennifer Helen Collins saying, "I will be a thread in you. Always. And my favorite color is purple."

On behalf of her family, thank you for being a celebration of her life everyday for the rest of yours.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jennifer H. Collins, 1978-2010

Jennifer Helen Collins, 31, of Gardner, formerly of Princeton and Fitchburg, died on Sunday July 18, 2010 at UMass Memorial Healthcare in Worcester. Jennifer was born on December 1, 1978 with spina bifida, which left her unable to walk and required her to undergo many surgeries.

She was a poet, a rider of horses, a lover of dogs, a victor at games, a social networker, and a crocheter. She loved music and singing and searching for a tune to carry. While there might be things she could not do by herself, she was rarely by herself. Jen had a way of getting forever into people's hearts, merely by loving them as family or friends.

For someone who was afraid of Santa Claus (She had her parents leave instructions for him at Christmas to just throw the presents through an open window and move along), she loved to give gifts. She'd often ask people about their favorite color, with an idea in mind for a present later.

Jennifer was authentic. She loved to talk to people so she could spend time listening to them. When she graduated from middle school, she was voted "best listener," a prerequisite to being a best friend, of which she had many. She volunteered as a companion at Oakdale nursing home, she attended Camp Agassiz Easter Seals Camp, first as a camper, then as a counselor in training. She volunteered at the Visiting Nurses Association in Gardner, and was activities assistant at Crystal House in Gardner. At the time of her death, she was taking classes online in the hope that she could one day be a psychologist, almost as if she didn't realize she already was.

Jen lived in her happiest moments, whether it was the thirteenth consecutive trip through "It's a Small World" at Disney World, a drive to see Christmas lights, Provincetown at night, word puzzles on the beach at the Cape, swimming with her grandparents, playing games with her brothers and cousins, writing poetry, or nights out with her mother, MaryLou.

Jennifer graduated from Wachusett Regional High School in 1997.She was preceded in death by her grandparents, Alcide and Lorraine Cormier, Walter and Shirley Irvine, and Fredrick Collins Jr.She is survived by her mothers MaryLou I. Cormier and Felice Collins; her father, William B. Collins; brothers William, Daniel and Erik Collins; her grandmother Ruth Eileen Collins; several cherished aunts, uncles and cousins; her dear friend Jack Kangas, and her housemates and friends Jessica McCarthy, Nancy Bache and Suzie Corsiglia.

Jennifer's parents would like to thank the doctors and nurses of the third floor ICU at UMass Memorial Healthcare in Worcester, and the staff of the Gardner Women's Residence for their skill and compassion.

A memorial service for Jennifer will be held at 4:30 P.M. on Thursday, July 22nd, in the Miles-Sterling Funeral Home, 100 Worcester Road (Rte. 12), Sterling.A reception to share in the celebration of the life of Jennifer H. Collins will be held immediately following at Chockset Inn in Sterling, Ma.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Jennifer's memory can be made to Camp Agassiz Easter Seals Camp, c/o Easter Seals, 484 Main Street 6th Floor, Worcester, MA. 01608.