"I thought, ‘Why would anybody join the Air Force unless they could be a pilot?’"
Photos by Megan Monday
Cyndy | Viroqua, WI
"My dad learned to fly when I was in high school. He got his pilot license, and he was encouraging me to do it, but I was just too busy, you know, in high school.
But once I was in college, he gave me a gift of three flying lessons for Christmas. So I went to ground school and I took the lessons and I thought, you know, maybe this is something I can do.
During my senior year at college, I was finishing my degree in Music Education and was planning to become a music teacher. Around that time some Air Force recruiters visited our campus. They handed out postcards that you could mail back in to express your interest in signing up. There was a long list of things men could do and a short little list of things women could do. Top of men's list, pilot. Top of women's list, nurse.
I thought, ‘Why would anybody join the Air Force unless they could be a pilot?’ So, I drew a box at the top of the woman's list, wrote ‘Pilot,’ checked it off and mailed the postcard in. I thought I'd never hear from them. But in a few months a recruiter called me and said, ‘Guess what? Women can be pilots in the Air Force, now. Come in and talk to me!’ So I did, and it worked out very well for me.
I piloted cargo planes while I was in the Air Force. I transported the president's limo on one occasion, and I had a lot of great adventures. When I went through my training in 1981, there was only one other woman in my class. I recently went back to visit my training base in Columbus and there were women pilots in training everywhere. Now they’re flying fighter planes, too. It has been really gratifying to see."
"Growing up in rural Wisconsin, we were way out of town. In the summer, my parents gave us chores. Once we had those chores done, the day was ours. We could go down to the woods on our land. We would play and make forts and have all sorts of adventures. We found bones and we’d think they were dinosaur bones...we would come running back with these wondrous dinosaur bones and my mom would say, ‘Cyndy, that's a cow skull.’
After I served in the Air Force, I was a FedEx pilot for many years. During that time, whenever I came back here to visit my parents, I had to come down to the woods. I just had to take a walk.
There was something about it for me. I think it was kind of spiritual. It made me feel grounded, in touch with something more. More with a capital "M." I traveled a lot in my career and I would always look for hiking trails because I think you get to know a place best if you can get out and walk on the land. Smell things, see things.
I grew up with a lot of access and wonder about the environment. It’s led me to this life where I’m really passionate about ecology and conservation."
"10 years ago, I decided to retire from my career as a pilot and move back into my childhood home so that I could raise my daughter, Joy, here. I wanted her to grow up like I did, in a place where she could get on her bike and go anywhere in town or run down to the woods to play. She loves it as much as I did and we spend a lot of time out here together, enjoying the land.
I started thinking, ‘Wouldn't it be nice to share this experience with other people?’ There are people who would love to come out here to hike and there are other people who might find it, like I do, a spiritual place to get grounded. But how do you do that? How do you build trails? I didn't know how to go about it. Around that time, a teacher from a local school here in town called me and said, ‘My fifth-graders need a project. Could we build a trail in your pines?’ And I said, ‘Ahh, serendipity.’
So they came out and did that as a school project. I told the teacher my dream was to have trails all the way through these woods. And he said, ‘Do you know Pete and Alycann with Vernon Trails? You have to meet them.’ So I got together with Pete and Alycann, and it was perfect because I had land I wanted to share. I wanted trails and they were working on building trails for our community."
-Cyndy (with Joy) | Viroqua, WI