Connecting With Vintage Airplanes
Kevin Kenz knows a lot about aircraft, but he’s not a pilot. Rather, the director of purchasing for KSS Enterprises, a Kalamazoo, Mich.-distributor, spends 24 to 40 hours each month as a docent (a guide who educates visitors about exhibits) for the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo. The Air Zoo is an award-winning museum that houses over 80 vintage aircraft, most of which are military planes.
“When I give a good tour and people respond positively, it’s the greatest feeling I can have,” says Kevin.
After attending a program at the Air Zoo, Kevin was inspired to volunteer there and since then has become known for several specialties. First, Kevin is the volunteer curator for the large exhibit dedicated to the Guadalcanal campaign (a battle fought between 1942 and 1943 in the Pacific theatre of World War II).
“I take care of the Guadalcanal exhibit, add new things to it, and teach the new docents things about it,” he says. “It’s a museum-within-a-museum.”
Aircraft engines are another special area of interest for Kevin.
“I’m one of the few people who spends a lot of time focusing on the engines,” he says. “Some people are thrilled that a docent can talk about engines with them for two hours at a time. And it’s fun for me when people have that kind of interest.”
Kevin is dedicated to his role as a guide and loves to continually learn more about the mechanics, history and people of aviation. He is also a member of several aircraft historical groups in both the United States and in the United Kingdom. These groups are dedicated to doing primary research on people, planes, squadrons and events, and the research findings are published in journals. Since this kind of information is not available from books, these research journals are very important to the learning process.
“Learning for me is exciting,” says Kevin. “For awhile, according to my wife, it seemed that the only reason we took vacations was to look at air museums.”
Docents such as Kevin see all kinds of visitors, from children who are fascinated with the bodily functions of the pilots (kids always ask how the pilots go to the bathroom while on 8-hour missions) to the pilots themselves.
One of the most touching moments for Kevin was with an elderly couple who were especially interested in the P-47 Thunderbolt, a World War II fighter-bomber. The gentleman, as it turned out, flew a P-47 Thunderbolt during the war.
“I asked the man to talk about his experiences with the plane and he related a few things that he remembered,” says Kevin. “He said ‘it flew great and got me home a lot of times.’”
Kevin invited the man to walk up and get close to the plane. He knew by the way the tearful veteran touched the aircraft that all he wanted to do was connect with the plane.
“I watched him touch it, and he stood there patting it like it was a long-lost friend,” he says. “Tears were flowing, and the gentleman couldn’t speak. I told him to take all the time he needed.”
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