A love for aviation can run in the family like any other trait. Just ask David Toelle, who followed his father’s footsteps through the EAA Air Academy this summer. David’s father, Troy Toelle, was a part of the very first Air Academy back in 1984, and his son graduated from the Air Academy some 33 years later after attending in the summer of 2017.
David has been to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh each year since he was born, showcasing his love for aviation and for EAA. In February, EAA Chapter 252 announced that, with credits they received from EAA for flying more than 800 Young Eagles flights in 2016, they were sponsoring David’s stay at the Air Academy.
“I thought it was really great that they recognized the relationship with us and came and supported that, to kind of encourage aviation with a younger generation,” David said.
EAA Director of Chapters and Communities and Homebuilt Community Manager and Chapter 252 President Charlie Becker saw the love of aviation in David when he gave him a Young Eagles ride, and said he knew getting him to the Air Academy was the right thing to do.
“There’s definitely a connection with Chapter 252, and I thought it was a neat opportunity to shine some light on the Air Academy with the first father-son duo going through the program,” Charlie said. “Based on my interactions with David, I thought he was a strong candidate and deserved an opportunity to experience that.”
Troy, who worked in EAA’s chapters office for a decade, said his son receiving the scholarship to attend the Air Academy was “a cherry on top,” and said Chapter 252, like all EAA chapters, is a great place for young people to get involved with aviation.
“Chapters are where aviation really blossoms on the grassroots end of it,” he said. “ That’s where the future aviators are.”
Although he said the Air Academy has evolved since his inaugural class, Troy noted many of the things he loved about attending, including the relationships forged among fellow attendees, volunteers, and EAA staffers, have not changed.
“There’s a lot of things about the Air Academy that are still the same, that really make it wonderful,” Troy said. “And of course I’m sharing that with David as he is growing up. He was born in Oshkosh, so he got to experience the whole organization.”
One of Troy’s favorite things about the Air Academy was the relationships he built through his time there, and David said he also enjoyed that aspect of his experience.
“I’ve kept in contact with a couple friends who I met there,” David said. “I also thought it was really interesting going back there because a lot of the staff knew me through my dad and my grandma. So they were like ‘Oh, it’s another Toelle.’”
That his family name was recognized speaks to the consistency and continuity present in the EAA Air Academy, something Troy said is true across all of EAA.
“People stay there,” he said. “People that volunteer to help kids at the Air Academy have been there from the very beginning, since 1984, which is a remarkable amount of commitment from volunteers. [It] is really the EAA spirit.”
David’s grandmother, Loretta Peterson, wrote a letter to Chapter 252 that would prove instrumental in getting him to the Air Academy.
She ended her letter with an emphatic but true statement: “We need more pilots!”
Although Midwestern winters make it difficult to fly, Troy said he and David are hoping David will get his private pilot certificate in the summertime. No lack of love for aviation will hold David back, as he answered quickly when asked what his favorite part of attending the Air Academy was.
“Flying, for sure,” he replied. “Definitely I liked flying. Anytime I get to fly, it’s always the best.”
According to Troy, David was a little nervous about jumping into what was a new endeavor for him in the Air Academy, but his father knew he would love the experience.
“I was excited because I knew he would love it,” Troy said. “He just didn’t know he would. But I knew he would love it, I knew he would be all pumped about it after he got out of it. Going into it there was some nudging, some gentle parent nudging.”
That gentle nudging — which David confirmed was indeed gentle — led to a perfect result for both father and son. David gets closer to becoming a pilot, and Troy gets a fellow aviator at heart to share in what he calls the top form of recreation.
“I tell all my kids the highest level of recreational anything is recreational flying,” Troy said. “We love golf, we love fishing, hiking, all that stuff. We would give it all up in a second to go flying, or at least I would. And now I have a kid that believes the same.”