A gift for Boss’s Day, which was held last Wednesday, is typically a plate of cookies, coffee mug or restaurant gift card, Clarmar Elementary School Principal Jason Chicoine said.
But the next day, Chicoine got much more than he asked for.
“I was told when I walked out of my staff meeting that I had to put on a blindfold and get in one of my teacher’s cars,” he said. “I was like, ‘What is going on?’”
Teachers at Clarmar treated Chicoine to a free helicopter ride Thursday evening at Fremont Municipal Airport.
The idea for the trip came from Julie Rossow, who first spoke with Chicoine about the subject last March.
Rossow and her family had planned to go to Walt Disney World over spring break, but were unable to drive out of town due to flooding.
But the family was given a helicopter ride from Fremont Airport to Eppley Airfield in Omaha by Dave Monke, president of Nebraska Irrigated Seeds, where her husband, Matt, works as a payroll manager.
As part of his job, Monke flies over fields of bean or corn for inspection, and often brings Matt Rossow along during these trips.
After hearing the story, Chicoine mentioned to Rossow that he had never been on a helicopter and that it was his dream to ride in one someday.
“That’s kind of where we got the idea,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s something fun we could do for Boss’s Day.’”
Chicoine said he never had a clue his comment would lead to his surprise trip.
“Julie put that little nugget in her back pocket, and about nine months later, here I am being blindfolded and surprised with a helicopter ride,” he said. “It was just really cool of her and the teachers to organize that and put that together.”
After putting him in the car, the teachers drove over to the airport before surprising Chicoine with the helicopter ride.
“Dave was waiting for us when we got there, and then some of the staff also got to watch,” Rossow said. “Dave gave him a little talk and kind of talked to all of us about how a helicopter worked and showed us his airplane and two helicopters.”
Monke, who has more than 40 years of experience in flying, uses helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for both business and personal flights. Rossow contacted him a couple weeks ago about the surprise, and Monke said he was glad to take part.
Before they took flight, Monke said he went over how helicopters move in the air and how the tail rotor keeps them from going straight.
“It was just a lot of little things,” he said. “Most people don’t even understand how helicopters work, and if you give them just a couple-minute instruction ahead of time of what makes them work, it just adds to it.”
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Monke and Chicoine first took off in a Bell 206 JetRanger, a four-seat aircraft that has been used by the United States Army.
After taking flight, the two flew to different sights around the city, including Clarmar.
“We flew over the state lakes and over the Elkhorn River as well,” Chicoine said. “It was really neat to see Fremont from a different perspective.”
While in the air, Chicoine said Monke explained the different control functions on the instrument panel.
“He just was super awesome about explaining that and promoting the Fremont Airport and what they do for the community, so it was just really neat,” Chicoine said. “Being an educator myself, it was a very educational experience as well, and he was super with that.”
Upon returning to the airport, Monke said he decided to take Chicoine on a Hughes 269, a small two-seat helicopter that Chicoine said reminded him of something from “M*A*S*H.”
“I said, ‘Heck, let’s go for a quick spin in that thing,’” Monke said. “And Jason was a little leery at first because you’re flying along without any doors on it, but I think he enjoyed it and got quite a kick out of it.”
The second flight took the two over parts of the Platte River before finally returning to the ground for good.
Chicoine said the experience made him more thankful for air medical personal, who ride in similar aircraft in dangerous conditions.
“I have a whole new respect for every time I see Life Flight fly over and land at the hospital,” he said. “Those guys are pretty incredible.”
Monke said the flying conditions couldn’t have been more perfect and was glad he got to show someone the joy of flying, which he said has been a huge part of his life.
“I think once people get familiar with aviation, they see that it’s really no riskier than driving a car,” he said. “I think it’s just the concern about the unknown, but once they experience it, I think they’re a lot more comfortable.”
Rossow joked that with such an amazing gift this year, Chicoine told her he expects a cruise for next year’s Boss’s Day.
“Jason just goes above and beyond at Clarmar for the kids and for the staff, and in everything he does, he gives 100%,” she said. “So we were happy to surprise him with something a little extra.”
But whether it’s a helicopter ride, a cruise or just a plate of cookies, Chicoine said he’s always thankful to work with an amazing group of individuals.
“I feel very blessed to be working at Clarmar with such a caring and thoughtful staff,” he said, “and it’s just so cool that they organized this experience for me.”