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Flyin' high: Evanston boys take flight, co-pilot stunt plane after winning essay contest

Modified: Tuesday, Aug 27th, 2013

Richard Stewart gives his adventures above Evanston two thumbs up. Zach Gilmore smiles with pilot Brad Wursten after co-piloting through loops and tumbles in Evanston's airspace Friday Aug. 23. Stewart and Gilmore earned the flights by winning an essay contest describing their dreams in life. (HERALD PHOTOS/Bryon Glathar)

EVANSTON – Two Evanston boys took over the airspace above Burns Field Airport last week.

Richard Stewart, son of Clint and Audrey Stewart, and Zach Gilmore, son of James Gilmore, cashed in their winning essay entries last Friday, Aug. 23, as each took a turn at the sticks, assisting stunt-pilot Brad Wursten of Logan, Utah with several airborne acrobatic maneuvers.

“It was fun,” Zach Gilmore said. But that didn’t seem adequate. “It was more than fun,” he added with a smile.

Speaking of smiles, Richard Stewart couldn’t wipe his off his face no matter how hard he tried in a Herald interview shortly after he landed.

“It was the funnest thing that I’ve ever been in or done,” he said. “I just couldn’t get rid of my big grin.”

The two youngsters were chosen in an essay contest sponsored by the Ryan J. Poe Foundation’s Elevate Your Life program.

Founded by the late Greg Poe, the foundation steers kids away from drugs, not by beating mantras into their brains, but by shifting their focus onto other things, such as aviation and realizing goals and dreams.

Greg’s brother, Russ, and Russ’s wife, Teresa, now run the foundation, which keeps them well-occupied during any chance they might think they have a spare moment.

But, the Poes said, it’s all worth it on days like Friday.

“We’re in the business of inspiring the youth, that’s what this is all about,” Russ Poe said.

Participants in the essay contest answered four questions: What is your dream? How will you achieve it? What role does education take in attaining your dream? What will you do with it once you have attained it?

These thought-provoking questions are designed to help youth create an extraordinary vision for their own lives, then see that the possibilities to achieve those dreams are attainable.

Operating in the U.S. and Canada, the Ryan J. Poe Foundation provides airplane rides to essay winners. By the end of this air show season, they expect to give 18 rides. Last year they gave 24, all across the continent.

While many students entered the essay contest, only two winners were chosen. Their essays captured the essence of the Elevate Youth Program.

Gilmore’s essay focused on his dream – to be a pilot in the Air Force.

He faocused on the education required to be a pilot, including the importance of graduating from college. He said his inspiration to zoom through the air came from Hollywood.

“Ever since I saw the movie “Top Gun,” I wanted to join the Air Force,” he wrote.

While Gilmore’s dream is to spend more time in the sky, Richard Stewart said his dream is to make a living on the basketball court.

“My dream is to get good grades and to be on the basketball team and to work myself up all the way to the NBA championships,” Stewart wrote.

Greg Poe stated on the foundation’s website, “Every young person has talent and ability. We want to help them discover and make their own success story from those skills.”

Gilmore and Stewart had family members on hand Friday to watch them soar, tumble and loop through the sky.

Wursten also performed stunts the following day during Evanston’s annual Airport Day.

“Both kids did the maneuvers with me,” Wursten said. “That’s the fun part – letting the kids fly.”

Keywords: pilot, co-pilot, stunt, plane, essay contest

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