More than 5,000 guests at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh have the campus bustling with activity over the course of the EAA AirVenture event at nearby Wittman Field.
“We like to consider them almost as alumni,” said Marc Nylen, UW Oshkosh director of residence life conference services, about the visitors who returned for 2021 after the 2020 AirVenture was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
All 10 UWO residence halls are rented by visitors from across the U.S. and beyond. Guests take advantage of dining, parking, shuttle services, recreation and walking trails. Community resource tables include information on shopping, local and regional attractions.
Visitors might take in the nearby Paine Art Center or Oshkosh Public Museum, while some seek out Lambeau Field, Harley-Davidson Museum, or visits to Wisconsin Dells, Madison, Milwaukee or Door County.
Newsletters have been published over the past few months to keep guests up to date and a new smart phone app was developed this year that provides information at their fingertips.
Returns to alma mater
UWO alumnus Keith Krasemann, ’70, who lives near Chicago, has been staying at UWO and attending AirVenture for years. A retired philosophy professor, author and pilot, Krasemann said he enjoys checking out campus during his AirVenture stays. His college dorm room some 50 years ago was in the former Clemens Hall, where Horizon Village is located today.
“Every year I come up I can see how things (around campus) changed,” he said, commenting that everyone at UWO is “friendly and helpful.”
AirVenture provides a great opportunity to celebrate aviation, and it’s something that Krasemann has in his roots―his father was a B-17 pilot in World War II.
“Talking to people in the last couple of days, they are happy to be back,” Krasemann said, adding that many pilots are in attendance and people are connecting with a “love and passion for aviation” with a lot of stories to tell.
Krasemann has flown himself several times to the AirVenture event, but he likes having a car so he and his wife can visit local attractions, museums and restaurants.
George Ramin of Houston, Texas, has been coming to UWO during EAA AirVenture since he was 27—he’s now 79 years old.
“I’ve always been interested in airplanes,” he said, noting that each year he has stayed in Gruenhagen Hall during the week of AirVenture. He used to take a commercial flight to Wisconsin, but the past three years it has been a two- to three-day road trip from the Lone Star state.
Ramin, who runs an automotive service station, said the hot and humid weather occurring this year in Oshkosh is rare. Still, the conditions, he said, don’t compare to Houston, where the average humidity can be more than 90 percent.
He said there is a “Texas group” of about 100 who take over one floor of Gruenhagen.
“Everyone here has been very nice,” he said.
Student team ready to help
Senior public relations major Amber Raygo, of Menominee, Michigan; and senior vocal performance major Abby Shreve, of Kenosha, are managing a team of students that keep operations running smoothly for their aviation-minded UWO guests.
They say international reservation numbers were down slightly―but overall reservations are up 10 percent from 2019. They noted an AirVenture offer that provides free admission to all attendees 18 and under has had a favorable impact on UWO lodging numbers.
Raygo and Shreve are happy to put faces with names and to meet guests arriving from all corners of the world.
Shreve, the vocal performance major, said she applied for the job and wanted to experience a connection with international guests, as well as office and clerical work involved in managing UWO lodging.
“It opened my eyes about the business side of music,” she said.
Raygo said as some of the guests get older, and after the disappointment of a canceled 2020, there are some people who wonder if their 2021 stay will be their last.
“They want to make the most of it,” Raygo said. “They’re happy to reconnect.”
Nylen said over the past year, he has fielded thousands of emails about every topic, every question imaginable.
When asked about some of the more “interesting” requests, he recalled the year a guest from Michigan wanted to install a large-screen TV and thought he could watch Detroit Tigers baseball games.
Raygo said there are many questions about dining (Is it all you care to eat? Is there soft-serve ice cream?) and about the rooms (Is their air conditioning? Is there maid service?)
Nylen credits many campus departments working together to provide a positive AirVenture lodging experience.