The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) has recognized Gene Pfautsch with its Public Benefit Flying Distinguished Volunteer Award. The Public Benefit Flying awards honor volunteer pilots, other volunteers and organizations engaged in flying to help others, as well as those supporting such work. Gene is Wings of Hope’s longest-serving volunteer, having served the organization for 32 continuous years.
Gene’s interest in aviation started when he was very young. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served four years as an aircraft engine mechanic supporting the Korean Conflict. Gene spent his civilian career working for McDonnell Douglas, first as an aircraft mechanic then in
the personnel division training department. In 1987, Gene retired early. At 55, Gene had lots of energy and a passion to continue doing something meaningful with his time.
“I found that I really missed the contact with aviation,” Gene recalls. “I visited two aviation volunteer organizations, and I immediately chose Wings of Hope. Now, I could work on small aircraft as a mechanic.”
Gene was also drawn to Wings of Hope’s mission: using aviation to change and save lives all over the world.
After a brief stint working in the Wings of Hope hangar, Don Malvern, then president of Wings of Hope, tapped Gene to use his people skills to head up the organization’s human resources department. Gene has continued to volunteer in this department, now called Volunteer Fulfillment Services, in the years since. His responsibilities include recruiting, interviewing, onboarding and training volunteers. In the past year alone, Gene has vetted 105 people and 24 of them are new volunteers.
Early on, Gene also served three years on the Wings of Hope Board of Directors where he got to know Wings of Hope’s four founders. And he is often tapped as the nonprofit’s resident historian – engaging volunteers and visitors with his treasure trove of Wings of Hope stories.
Gene’s reasons for volunteering are simple: “I came to Wings of Hope for my desire to be associated with aviation and helping others. Now why have I stayed 30-plus years? In addition to a great mission, I have met so many fine volunteers from so many walks of life – all dedicated and willing givers. It has certainly been a major reason for my continuance with the organization. I can’t think of a better way in my retirement to spend my life. It has been, and continues to be, very rewarding.”
Gene will be presented his award at NAA’s Fall Awards Dinner on Nov. 12, 2019, in Arlington, Virginia.