Security Puts Smiles on Faces at OSH21

By Barbara A. Schmitz

While working security and directing pedestrians and vehicles may not seem like the most exciting job on the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 grounds, don’t tell that to Jake Grainger and Karl Kessler.

They do what they can to put smiles on AirVenture visitors’ faces. In Jake’s case, it’s with hats. For Karl, it’s with dance.

Sporting a green, furry hat on Thursday, Jake has been working AirVenture security for 11 years, and he said it is the people here that bring him back each year.

Jake Grainger at EAA AirVenture 2021

“It’s a bunch of people who come together to enjoy something,” he said. “They don’t even have to enjoy airplanes. Maybe it’s watching the air show or just the atmosphere. Everything is so family-oriented.”

Jake, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, said he started trying to make people smile by wearing shoes that were spray-painted fluorescent red, yellow, and metallic blue.

“I hate white shoes, and one time [EAA founder] Paul Poberezny stopped by in Red One to talk about shoes with me. He said he had a pair of Converse that were basically kept together with duct tape.”

Those fluorescent shoes were destroyed during Sploshkosh, the year that excessive rains caused many parts of the AirVenture grounds to be underwater. So in 2012, he changed from “interesting” shoes to hats.

The green, furry one he wore Thursday was actually the first hat he started with. “It’s hot,” he admitted, “but I’ve worn this in 100-degree weather.”

On Wednesday, he wore a Shrek hat. Other hats he’s showcased in past years include a long stocking Santa hat (for Christmas in July), a cowboy hat, a train conductor hat, a fedora, and a multicolored umbrella hat straight out of the 80s. He said he bought a new hat for the 2021 fly-in convention, but he wouldn’t tip his hat about what it looked like.

Jake said he wears fun hats for the patrons; it’s something that puts a smile on their faces and keeps them coming back each year. You can find him daily between 6:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. located just inside Gate 33.

Karl, of Menasha, Wisconsin, is back for a second year of working AirVenture security. An elementary music teacher, he says music is a big part of his life.

“I constantly have songs in my head, and I’ve never been able to stand still,” he said. “I try to live life with passion. I’m enjoying life, and passionate about being happy.”

Karl Kessler at EAA AirVenture 2021

You can find Karl dancing each day of AirVenture from 6:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Gate PK near the bus terminal.

“I love theater, specifically musicals, so I like dancing, singing, acting, anything outdoors,” he said. Plus, dancing is a lot healthier than just standing around.

“Yesterday, I got 32,000 steps on my Fitbit,” said the Savannah, Georgia, native. And by 10:15 a.m. Thursday, he was already up to 18,000 steps.

His dance moves have also inspired a lot of comments.

“People want to know what’s on my song list, if I’m wearing earbuds … or what I’m smoking,” he said, laughing. “It’s just that life is so beautiful and precious that I don’t want to waste a second. And I do like making people smile.”

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