It was a quiet end to an organization that for 24 years had made the skies over the capital city rumble, thrilling tens of thousands of spectators. A few days later, Curry and her father, Harry Holesinger, met with a reporter to talk about the Springfield Air Rendezvous legacy. Holesinger, a retired Air Force major general and former head of the Illinois Air National Guard, first became involved with Air Rendezvous in 1984, and his wife, Dee, and daughter, Kim, both shared his passion. In those early days, Curry remembers wearing a wooden sandwich board and walking around downtown to advertise the show. “Whatever it took, we did,” she says. Her involvement continued to grow over the years, and after the 1993 event she became the de facto coordinator. “Between the ’93 and ’94 air show we were somewhat in a world of hurt — almost $200,000 in debt. We had no office; we had no files; we were in dire straits. For the first six months, the Air Rendezvous office was my dining-room table.”
Curry managed, however, to secure the Blue Angels, the Navy’s precision aerobatic demonstration team, for the 1994 show: “We talked to all the folks the air show owed money to and asked them to bear with us. We thought we would pay off 50 percent of our debt with the ’94 show.” Instead, the air show hit pay dirt that year.
“It succeeded beyond our dreams,” she says. “We not only paid off all the debt, we had seed money for the following year.” The success landed Air Rendezvous office space, donated by Capital Aviation, where the organization remained until last month. “The 1994 board really went all out to produce a successful air show.”
In 1995 the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds team performed, followed in 1996 by the return of the Blue Angels. By then the organization, which had been deeply in debt, was able to make sizeable contributions to charities. “Prior to my arrival and ever since, Springfield Air Rendezvous has been a team effort,” Curry says. “There is not one person that can claim responsibility for its success.”
That said, Curry unabashedly credits her father as a major factor in the show’s continuing success. The organization was able to lean on Holesinger’s extensive military contacts, which brought some of the latest aircraft here. Air-show fans may not come to see an airliner on a ramp, but many will want to get close to an F/A-18 Hornet, a Harrier, or a swing-wing B-1 strategic bomber. “It would have been impossible to produce [Air Rendezvous] without the cooperation of the Air Force and Army Air National Guard units in Springfield, Decatur, and Peoria,” Curry says. Also contributing to the event’s success was the pool of promotional talent required to get the word out: the media and other communications-services providers. Cooperative, coordinated, and extensive marketing — not as critical in major metro areas with built-in attendance — was essential here. “The media were very good to us,” Holesinger says. The father-daughter team also praises Air Rendezvous’ volunteer board and commends the cooperation of airport officials. “Most people who start an air show don’t have air-show-operations experience,” Holesinger says. “There is a learning curve that improves with experience. Mistakes were made along the way, and the Springfield Airport Authority was commendably patient with the process. Over 24 years, we did not have to keep reinventing the same wheel.”
Curry estimates that she spent part of almost every week of the year in the office or in the field, getting the next event together. Developing new contacts was as important as using the resources on hand. The look of the airport would begin to change three weeks before the show as fencing and tents were erected and operations and phone lines were relocated to trailers on the north side of the airport. “It was a lot easier to tear it all down than it was to put it all up,” Curry says. Holesinger and Curry are reluctant to name their favorite performers, but they do have favorite moments. “In recent years I would talk with crew members who were born and raised in Springfield,” she says. “It always moved me when, say, the pilot of a C-5, a former Springfield kid now based in Dover, Del., would tell me he remembered coming to Air Rendezvous for years. To have influenced many toward careers in aviation is probably our greatest gift to the future. That gift, in the form of the Springfield Air Rendezvous scholarship endowment, will continue well into the foreseeable future.”
The coming departure of 183rd Fighter Wing aircraft and personnel from the airport was a factor in what many enthusiasts consider the air show’s premature demise. “It weighed heavily on the organizers’ decision to close the show,” Curry says. Will the air show ever return? “I’m never going to say never,” Curry says, but the signs are not promising. In January, the SAR board will meet to allocate funds — half of the $60,000 on hand — to area charities. The other half goes to the Lincoln Land scholarships. Legwork to finalize the allocations is now under way. The show is known internationally, and Curry feels that it would be extremely difficult to produce the same kind of event again. Even if it was, it’s not likely to fly with the same name. “Every event runs its course,” Curry says. “The cost of the event was becoming prohibitive. The writing was on the wall. Why would we want to go in debt and owe everybody money and then end it? We wanted to be good stewards of the Air Rendezvous name and the event itself. It would not be fair to the community. Better to leave too soon than stay too long.”
Job Conger is a frequent contributor to Illinois Times. He has posted pictures of the final Springfield Air Rendezvous air show at www.aeroknow.com/GALLERY/sar06home.htm.