2019 Award Winners

Endeavor Award Recipient

Gary Dee Dyson

Chief Pilot, Orbis International

Orbis Chief Pilot, Captain Gary Dyson, has been volunteering with Orbis International since 2001 and has flown an incredible 36 missions in 18 years. Gary originally became involved when Orbis requested operational and training assistance from FedEx for their existing cadre of volunteers who flew the Orbis DC-10 Flying Eye Hospital. He soon volunteered and enlisted other FedEx pilots to help develop training and operate the DC-10 Flying Eye Hospital worldwide. After 12 years of flying the DC-10 and giving the gift of sight worldwide, Gary became Chief Pilot for Orbis and now trains and assigns pilot crews for all projects flown each year on the MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital, the current model that replaced the DC-10. Orbis’s mission of transforming lives through the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness is important to Gary, as he has witnessed first-hand the transformation that the gift of sight can have on a person’s life.

Endeavor Award Recipient

Merry Schroeder

Volunteer Pilot, LightHawk

The criteria for the Endeavor Award calls for performance that “exceeds expectations and distinguishes the nominee from others.” To use that phrase to describe Merry Schroeder is to use almost British understatement. Becoming a volunteer pilot in 1987, Merry is not just LightHawk’s longest-serving volunteer pilot, she’s made (and donated, no reimbursement) 387 LightHawk flights to date. She was a volunteer pilot for two of the Angel Flight wings between 2003 and 2017, and made 215 flights for them. In addition, she was a volunteer pilot making flights for the VPO Grace. She also made volunteer flights for the unfortunately short-lived Wings of Change VPO in 2001.

Merry Schroeder has recognized that being a volunteer pilot means more than acting as an airborne taxi driver and walking away once the airplane is refueled and stashed in the hangar. She has actively helped in fundraising for LightHawk. She became a board member in 2007, only leaving when family health issues required more of her attention.

As she became more experienced with the challenges and nuances of the demands of conservation flying over remote areas — her flights have been primarily over the remote, rugged and mountainous terrains of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and California — she increasingly donated her time to mentor newer LightHawk pilots. (She has been willing to fly long distances from her home base in Santa Fe, NM.) In addition, she has been an enthusiastic champion of volunteer aviation, constantly engaging in outreach to recruit pilots for all types of VPOs. She has never hesitated to say yes when asked to speak about volunteer flying to an individual or a group.

Both LightHawk and Angel Flight staff have valued the time and attention that Merry puts into pre-flight planning, passenger preparation, safety briefings and putting safe flight and extraordinary customer service at the top of her priorities. Merry became an oft-requested pilot for many missions in the Southwest United States as her reputation grew. She’s been more than “just” a volunteer — a mentor of VP peers, an ambassador on behalf of her VP organizations, a cheerleader for other women in aviation, a generous and consistent donor, and a willing volunteer whenever help was needed.

Merry’s volunteer flights have been in her normally aspirated Cessna 210. She has almost 6,000 hours of flying time in a number of types of aircraft and holds commercial, instrument, and flight instructor ratings. When she started as a volunteer, she was immediately involved in flying into some of the most rugged and remote areas of the country — before GPS made finding the right mountain top or river valley easy.

“I feel strongly, as do other members of the VPO family, that Merry’s inclusion of LightHawk and Angel Flight as part of her family for over 30 years, her flying and overall service to the missions of conservation aviation and medical transport flight, as well as multi-faceted support of volunteer flying to serve the public good makes her one of our most deserving nominees in memory.” – Terri Watson

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