Area program touts aviation heritage

Friendship Force exchange to showcase region’s aviation ties. Local families invited to participate, learn.

The upcoming “Aviation Trail: Past, Present, Future” is slated for July 7-14 and is being hosted by the Dayton area’s Friendship Force. The international organization promotes peace by arranging one-on-one personal exchange visits throughout America and around the world.

The one-week aviation adventure will kick off with the Dayton Air Show and include visits to aviation-related sites, including Tech Town, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wapakoneta’s Neil Armstrong Museum and many historic Wright Brothers locations.

Local residents are encouraged to get involved in a variety of ways. Participants can host a family or learn more about aviation history by attending the events and meet new people from other parts of the country and world.

“We’re still looking for both overnight hosts and day hosts and anyone is welcome to come to any the events as long as they call ahead to make a reservation,” says Lucette Fogel of Centerville, a Friendship Force board member.

About the organization

“Our family’s experience with Friendship Force has changed not just the way we travel, but the way we view the world and other cultures,” says past president Vicki Thompson, whose family has been on 10 “outbound” exchanges to other lands and has hosted many visitors in their Sugarcreek Twp. home.

Locally the organization has about 150 members and organizes two foreign trips a year for 10 to 25 people. About twice each year, foreign visitors come to the region. That number has decreased, organizers say, because it is now more difficult for those in other countries to obtain visas.

Families are matched by interests or professions, and children are always welcome. Some join simply to support the concept.

Local club history

The region has been involved since 1979, when Jeanne Comer of Kettering first read about Friendship Force in the Wall Street Journal.

“The opportunity to meet people in foreign countries and to make friends with them, and to bring others from foreign lands and have them visit us in our homes, it just sounded fascinating,” she remembers. “And it was such an inexpensive way to travel.”

Since that time, Comer has been to 34 other countries. Area residents have visited Kenya and Australia, France and Norway, Wales and Russia, Switzerland and Egypt.

Comer helped organize the historic trip to Bosnia commemorating the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. She took her 17-year-old grandson along.

“He didn’t really want to go, but when we got there, we visited the big cemetery in Sarajevo and he saw one plot that had nothing but babies that had been killed during the siege, he came back and wrote an ‘Ode to Sarajevo,’ ” he was so changed,” she says.

As a result of that trip, says past president Bill Hagan, a planeload of goods collected locally were delivered to Sarajevo to help residents through the winter, and the local club was named the Friendship Force Club of the Year.

Hagan says it’s impossible to predict what will happen on a trip.

“In Australia, our hosts unexpectedly lost their son when we were there and we went to the funeral,” he remembers. “In New Zealand, the family was hosting a birthday for their ‘mum’ and we viewed New Zealand history through the slide show that the children put together for their mother.”

Participants share experiences

Marian and Leo Wright of Enon have been on more than a dozen trips with Friendship Force, and keep in touch with many of their hosts.

“The people are all so friendly and interested in the United States and where we live,” Marian says. “We’re called ambassadors, so we try to represent our country in a positive way.”

The trips, she says, are very different than a typical tour.

“They take you places a tour would not,” she explains. “We sample the food and the entertainment they enjoy.”

Comer, who founded Dayton’s club and helped get others started in cities throughout Ohio, has been honored as a Dayton Daily News Ten Top Woman and was presented with the Rosalind Carter Friendship Force Lifetime Achievement award in London, England in 2000.

Comer also is represented in the Dayton Walk of Fame in the Wright Dunbar district.

She’s said she’s especially proud of the Peace Pole that stands at Deeds’ Point, near RiverScape MetroPark, that was donated by Friendship Force of Dayton. (She has a smaller version at her home.)

This summer, engraved bricks will be added that list all of the inbound and outbound trips sponsored by the chapter since its inception.

New members are always welcome.

“We want to make sure people aren’t going just for the travel, they have to understand our mission,” Comer says.

At 88, Comer is no longer traveling. “I traveled so much; now I live in my memories,” she says.

Charles and Mary Ackley of Lebanon have been involved with Friendship Force for 12 years.

“I heard about a trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel, and we wanted to go,” Charles says.

“The price was right, the company was good. You become like family.”

In Egypt, he says, they were the guests of a couple who had a home in Cairo and an apartment in the suburbs.

“They turned over their apartment to us,” he says.

Since that time, the Ackleys have hosted guests from Egypt, Germany and North Vietnam.

Thompson says the current Friendship Force slogan: “Changing the way you see the world” has definitely proven true for her family.

All three of her daughters have traveled with Friendship Force.

Daughter Lauren, who went on trips from ages 5-17, will study architecture at the University of Cincinnati in the fall, and says her desire to be an architect has been strongly influenced by exposure to diverse architectural influences and cultural experiences during her travels.

“Now we think of other countries as the homes of friends,” Thompson says.

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