Longtime EAA President Tom Poberezny dies as AirVenture 2022 kicks off

He died Monday morning after a brief illness.
He was an accomplished pilot as well as an executive who put AirVenture on the world's radar
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 8:57 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 10:40 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - It was the first day of EAA AirVenture and it began with heavy hearts as aviation enthusiasts learned long-time EAA president Tom Poberezny died Monday morning. He was 75 years old and died after a brief illness.

The Experimental Aircraft Association said it is saddened over the news. Tom was EAA president from 1989-2010, succeeding his father, EAA founder Paul Poberezny.

“It is not lost on us that Tom’s passing occurred on the opening day of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the event he led into world prominence as its chairman beginning in the 1970s,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO and Chairman of the Board.

Tom’s legacy is tremendous in the world of aviation with his personal achievements as well as the growth of EAA, especially the development of the current EAA Aviation Center in Oshkosh, the Young Eagles program, and the creation of Sport Pilot nearly 20 years ago.

“He will be greatly missed but more importantly, he will be remembered for all that he did for EAA and aviation. Our sincere thoughts and prayers go to Tom’s wife, Sharon, and his daughter, Lesley, and the rest of the Poberezny family,” said Pelton.

The news comes on the heels of the EAA AirVenture opening its 69th year at Wittman Regional Airport.

“That was very difficult, I think, for everybody,” Dennis Spivey, a volunteer for 21 years, said.

People we spoke with on the grounds said whether you knew him closely or not, he was a man that would always stop to say hi while driving around the grounds in his red Volkswagen, and his presence will be greatly missed this year.

“I just tear up. We’re standing on their shoulders. They did a great job to get us where we are,” Spivey said of the Pobereznys.

Long-time volunteers on the grounds said his special personality was a big reason the organization was able to get things done so quickly and efficiently.

”He was such a part of it. AirVenture is a combination of so many people working together, but he was at the lead of it. He was the leadership,” EAA Director of Communications Dick Knapinski said.

“It’s kind of like a Catch-22, I guess you could say. It’s a little bit of sadness, a little bit of perfection at the same time,” Roxy Barkhahn, a volunteer of 27 years, said.

”It certainly isn’t lost on us that his passing coincides with the opening of AirVenture, the event that he so loved and really built into something that has known the world over,” Knapinski said.

Organizers want to honor his legacy with an airshow tribute. In the meantime, a memorial was set up around Tom’s iconic number 3 Volkswagen.

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His aviation career began in the 1970s and included 25 years with the legendary Eagles aerobatic team

Memorial services are still being determined at this time. More information will be announced as it is finalized.

“Probably as we think of him, we will think about some major accomplishments, moving AirVenture into a worldwide event -- from just a show for armchair aviation enthusiasts to bringing up the Concorde and other great airplanes,” Knapinski said.

According to the EAA website, “Poberenzy was first elected president of EAA in 1989. He assumed additional duties as EAA’s Chairman of the Board in February 2009, then retired as chairman of EAA and EAA AirVenture in August 2011 and took on the role of chairman emeritus. An accomplished aviator in his own right, Tom was a member of the U.S. National Unlimited Aerobatic Team that captured the World Championship in 1972. The following year, he won the U.S. National Unlimited Aerobatic Championship. He subsequently flew for 25 years as one wing of the legendary Eagles Aerobatic Team (originally the Red Devils), the most successful civilian precision flying team in history.”

Poberenzy’s bio also states that during his career he had the task of overseeing a number of the organization’s milestone events. It states, “in the late 1970s he spearheaded EAA’s first major capital campaign, which supported the construction of the current EAA Aviation Center headquarters and museum complex at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.”

MORE FROM POBERENZY’S CAREER ACCORDING TO EAA: “Most recently, he has spearheaded EAA’s leadership role in the sport pilot/light‐sport aircraft categories, as well as serving as an ardent spokesman for the importance of general aviation as essential to the national transportation system and a unique expression of personal freedom. One of Tom’s most demanding roles was as chairman of the annual EAA AirVenture Fly‐In Convention for more than 30 years. During that time, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, as it is now known, has grown to be the world’s largest annual general aviation event, attracting an attendance of more than 500,000 from 70 nations and 10,000 airplanes for one spectacular week every summer.”

Tom Poberezny, son of EAA's founder, was president for 21 years, developing the Young Eagles program, Sport Pilot and more.

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