by Tom Gibbons, Bob Collins, Bill Schanks, Rosemary Frank
The first meetings of the fledgling EAA chapter in the East Metro were held in Ward Holiday’s office at Elmo Aero in Lake Elmo but soon thereafter the several dozen members became vagabonds, shuttling between homes and the old Northwest Hangar lunchroom at the St. Paul Downtown airport. When the chapter moved back to Lake Elmo year later because of the rental cost downtown, they gathered in the shop space of Dave Fiebiger’s rented hanger. It was still a small chapter. Typically, about a dozen members of the 35 would attend chapter meetings.
In the '90s an effort was made to find a permanent chapter home; the chapter couldn't grow without it. But the financial challenge the lack of member interest scuttled those plans.
When Ed Mayer acquired the old Lake Elmo Aero hangar and building, he allowed the chapter to meet there every month, rent free. Members envisioned it as the chapter's future home, but the Metropolitan Airports Commission had future plans for the property, it said.
Then, in August 2000, a devastating storm spawned a microburst, which wiped out part of the airport, destroyed several planes and buildings, including the structure that was serving as the chapter's home.
"To spend years fixing and tweaking and changing an airplane to make it just the way you want it to be and to take those trips and flights together, you and your plane, to experience that thrill of flight, to see all of those sunsets from 7 or 8,000 feet and to do all of those perfect landings, to hear and feel the smoothness of that engine, to build that bond between you and a machine. No amount of money can replace that," chapter president Bill Schanks wrote. "Only the people who have experienced that feeling can know and understand."
"We just have to be creative," Schanks said about determining where to call "home."
Late that year, the late Jerry Sarracco called a home mover on a whim at random and learned it had recently acquired a portable classroom from the White Bear Lake School District for $1. Sarracco, members Paul Liedl, Dick Wickland, and Dave Fiebiger jumped in a vehicle and drove to the site to inspect the classroom, which, coincidentally, Fiebiger had worked in in his capacity with the school district. But it would need to be moved, a task that doesn't cost $1; it would cost $7,000 to move the building to the airport while the chapter and the Metropolitan Airports Commission figured out where it could go permanently.
MAC initially approved several possible spots: along the south fence (perfect for watching airplanes), across from the present position on the other side of the beacon, and the present position it is in now. Eventually, MAC ruled out all but the present location.
Dave Fiebiger did the bulk of the planning and construction coordination. Sarracco handled the bureaucrats. When they were ready to start the digging and laying out of the concrete building support columns, a construction company was already on the field building some hangars so they members convinced them to use their equipment to help dig foundation holes.
With the concrete columns in place and ready for the building, a moving company hoisted the building onto the supports. The rest was up to the members.
By summer 2001, the building was in place, paid for in large part by the pancake breakfasts of the previous years and a subsequent $4,500 fundraising drive among the chapter's 90 members. About 40 members made contributions, several in honor of some of the chapter's founders.
Dave Fiebiger coordinated much of the work that led to the clubhouse
The building came with a couple of rooms inside for classrooms. The walls were removed to convert the building to meeting use. Wood paneling on the outer walls was removed and members installed sheetrock. They built the kitchen area with cabinets and a countertop with provisions for a refrigerator. And they built a deck in the front of the building, and made a ramp to make the building accessible under the ADA.
In 2009, the chapter house was expanded with a new addition. Hire someone? That's not the way with the culture of EAA 54. Every member has a useful talent and limitless enthusiasm. By pitching in, the members could made relatively quick work of things. The late Dave Fiebiger had laid a concrete pad the previous fall, so on Saturday, April 25, 2009, members went off in groups to build subsections of the building. These included the floor sections, the wall sections, some sub-wall sections and work on the foundation attachment preparation.
Fiebiger laid out each wall and floor section on paper and exactly what wood would be used for each plan. The members gathered the wood laid out on the plan and cut them to length, then nailed it all together. Then these sections were lifted and brought to the building for installation.
Eventually the building's entire roof was converted to metal, and the new addition allowed for a kitchen area and storage capacity for Young Eagles supplies.
In late 2023, the first significant interior renovation of the space began with the removal of desks and bookcases, the creation of a history exhibit, repainting of all walls, the addition of blackout curtains, and new, more comfortable seating. The goal is to acknowledge our chapter's history while creating a comfortable space for current activities.
The Chapter House is not only used for monthly meetings; it is open every Saturday morning for anyone to stop by and socialize. There is always coffee, pop and cookies available and sometimes donuts.
Every Saturday on the weekend before our monthly meeting, the chapter holds a Young Eagles rally, weather permitting.
Inside the Chapter House, you'll also find dozens of models of aircraft, and aviation books and DVDs available for checkout at no charge.
Today, the EAA Chapter House stands as a testament to the vitality, spirit, and camaraderie of the members -- past and present -- of EAA Chapter 54.
If you're not yet a member, we have a home here for you.
The history of EAA Chapter 54