LACON — A hearty breakfast, airplane and helicopter rides, the renewal of family traditions and memories of a longtime local aviation leader who was recently recognized in an address from the floor of Congress.
Those were among the attractions that drew a near-record crowd of about 1,500 people Sunday to the Marshall County Airport’s 51st Annual Father’s Day Fly-in/Drive-in Breakfast.
A forecast of oppressive heat and humidity appeared to prompt more early arrivals than usual soon after serving began at 7 a.m., but it didn’t deter the crowd from approaching last year’s record total of 1,525, noted Jim Fassino, president of a local not-for-profit pilots’ group that organizes the event.
“I suspect that people came early because of the heat, and that was probably a good thing for everyone,” Fassino said. “It had a pretty good pace, and we were afraid we were going to run out of food halfway through, but then it dropped off.”
And fortunately even for later arrivals, much of the morning weather proved more moderate than predicted before harsher conditions began to materialize closer to noon.
“We got a breeze, and it’s a little bit overcast,” new Airport Board member Ron Kenyon said as he and his son and son-in-law cooked sausage on a huge grill. “This time of year, that’s about the best we can ask for.”
One of the event’s popular features is the display of an OSF LifeFlight helicopter. The crew on duty Sunday consisted of pilot Kevin Terhark and flight nurses Mike Palmer and Tina Reel with an aircraft based at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru.
“We tend to draw a crowd when we land,” said Reel, who noted that such occasions often involve meeting people who have had contact with the service. “Just about everywhere we go, we have someone who has been a patient or had a family member (transported).”
Among other things, the appearance offers children a chance to sit in the pilot’s seat for a close look and photos. Guest pilots Sunday included 18-month-old Audrey Clark of Washburn and her 3-year-old sister, Vivian, who were enjoying the annual outing with parents Allen and Jessica Clark.
We come every year. It’s a tradition,” said Jessica Clark. “We love the breakfast. It’s delicious, and it’s just a great way to get out with the kids and enjoy Father’s Day.”
The event observed a somber moment in mid-morning as four area pilots flew over the field in a “missing man” formation mourning the recent death of longtime airport board president Charlie Allen of Lacon, who died last month at 84. He had held that position since 1966, and U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, was on hand to read the statement he made in Congress on June 12 to honor Allen as “a dedicated community leader and philanthropist.”
“We mourn the passing of Charlie, a friend and co-pilot to many,” he stated in part. “He left a lasting impact on those who worked and flew with him. His memory will be forever entwined in the fabric of the Lacon community and the Marshall County Airport.”
Many people attending the event were eager to recite their memories of Allen, whether from aviation or in some other connection, Fassino pointed out. Some also made donations to the Charles Allen Memorial Scholarship fund, a program just launched by the Marshall County Flyers Inc. to offer introductory pilot training to high school seniors.
“We got some nice contributions from some individuals,” Fassino said. “That was really heart-warming. They did that in remembrance of Charlie Allen.”
Marshall County officials have begun discussing the possibility of somehow naming the airport after Allen. Former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood had made that suggestion at an airport ceremony five years ago when he was secretary of transportation, and he repeated Sunday that he thought it would be appropriate recognition for Allen’s long leadership of the county-owned facility.
“Charlie was a great guy,” he said. “Communities just don’t have people like that anymore.”