Former Blue Angel to speak at festival fund raiser

Thursday, October 31, 2002

It's a homecoming of sorts for former Blue Angels pilot Lt. Col. Larry Packer as he travels to speak at the Cape Girardeau Air Festival's first-ever fund raiser this weekend, even though his native home of Los Angeles is thousands of miles away.

Packer first came to Cape Girardeau when the Blue Angels participated in Cape Girardeau Regional Airport's 1992 air show. That is when he met aerial enthusiasts Erv and Lana Arnzen of Scott City and became pen pals with their 9-year-old daughter, Jessica. A few years later, Packer flew into the area for Jessica's memorial service after she died in a car accident Sept. 19, 2000.

"The best thing I've ever came away with is meeting normal, everyday people that lead lives all across this country, and then finding out that they are not so normal and everyday. Like Jessica and the Arnzens, they became as close as family," Packer said of his Blue Angels career in a phone interview Tuesday.

The Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival will sponsor a banquet, wine tasting and silent auction Saturday at the Cape Elks Lodge as a fund raiser for the 2003 Air Festival, scheduled for June 21-22.

According to airport manager Bruce Loy, the airport has sporadically produced an air show for many years, and organizers have tried to make it an annual event since 1998. The 2002 air festival was cancelled due to difficulty in acquiring sponsorship money after the impact of last year's Sept. 11 terrorists attacks.

Contrary to popular belief, Loy said, the city of Cape Girardeau does not fund the regional airport's air festivals. The city supports the event, and even provides money upfront, but funding for the shows, which can add up to $100,000, is provided through sponsorships, admission prices and concessions.

Saturday's event will start at 6 p.m. with the wine tasting and a social hour, featuring Missouri wines and music from a local combo group, the Saxy Jazz Quartet with Pat Schwent and Pete Parysek. A dinner buffet and program will follow at 7 p.m. with Packer as the guest speaker.

Honors to veterans

Four veterans will be honored during the evening: Herbert A. Brase, Air Force; Dale K. Wolfenkoehler, Marine Corps; Marvin C. Drum, Army; and Jack L. Sheppard, Navy. The silent auction will take place throughout the entire affair with winners announced at the end of the night.

Silent auction items include a champagne airplane tour for six over the Mississippi River with a stop at Patti's Restaurant in Grand Rivers, Ky., flight provided by Cape Air Charter; a tandem skydiving jump; airplane rides; framed artwork; weekend getaways; gift baskets; area restaurant gift certificates; and much more.

Tickets to the fund-raising event is $25 per person. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 334-6230 or send payment to the Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival, P.O. Box 617, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702. The airport is also accepting donations of auction items.

Through his relationship with the Arnzens, active members of the Cape Girardeau Pilots Club and instrumental in assisting with Cape Girardeau's air show for years, Packer came to know several local aviators. It was only natural that he be selected to speak at the fund raiser.

With 14 years in the U.S. Navy and six years in the Air Force, Packer will be retiring from his current position with the Oregon Air National Guard in January.

"He has a real love for flying and military aviation. I think he is really going to miss the opportunity to strap himself into an F-15 and take off," Loy said of Packer. "He is just a really good person. He has impressed me and really helped us out with the air show over the years since he was here."

During his presentation, Packer plans to show a video on the Blue Angels and talk about his experience flying with the team. Throughout the Blue Angels show season, the aviation team flies in a different air show every weekend from mid-March to mid-November. They train from January to March.

Full schedule for flyers

"The toughest part of flying with the Blue Angels was being away from my wife, Carole, and two boys, West and Riley. The team is gone a little over 300 days a year, and even when you are home, your time is not your own," Packer said. "It's kind of like being a celebrity where nobody recognizes your face. You have to go to functions and things like that."

One of the best parts of traveling with the Blue Angels was visiting classrooms and hospitals during their air show stops, according to Packer.

"I have found the military to be very rewarding, very challenging, but it is not just flying. It is taking a lot of tests. It is always being ready," Packer said. "With hard work and common sense, you can do some amazing things."

jgosche@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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