Photography by Matthew Gilson
It’s a perfect pancake breakfast morning, and luckily, EAA Chapter 15 has obliged. Volunteers are dishing out plates of steaming food to hungry visitors at Lewis University Airport (LOT) in Romeoville, Illinois. Locals love an EAA breakfast, so the parking lot is full—but, more important, so is the ramp.
The Sunday Morning Breakfast Club has come calling.
“It’s amazing how much avgas this group burns on a Sunday morning,” observes Steve MacCabe, the official—or unofficial—“talleymeister” of the group. He moves through the crowd, shaking hands as pilots catch sight of him. Later, he will count 55 SMBC members flying 28 aircraft, and faithfully note it on the group’s website. Active participation is a point of pride. Bob Barcelona, who’s been a part of the Sunday Morning Breakfast club since the 1980s, keeps his RV–6A at the airport—but he took his wife for a ride around the pattern so that he could say he’d flown in.
With roots going back decades, the members of this friendly pilots’ group genuinely like hanging out and eating together—two favorite pilot pastimes. What sets them apart is that they’ve managed to keep it going at a time when many other groups struggle to retain members or even fly regularly.
Based at LOT but drawing pilots from neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin, SMBC’s credo is simple: to fly out for breakfast every Sunday. If a VFR destination can’t be found, they will drive to an airport with a restaurant.
And that’s pretty much it. There are no dues, fees, or elected officers. Nobody except MacCabe has a title, and his is perfunctory. Everyone likes it that way. “There’s no politics—and because of that, it’s great,” says Steve Russell, who flew his 1962 Piper Cherokee 160 from Greater Kankakee Airport (IKK).
“No dues—I love that!” adds Rosario LoPiccolo. Like most others in the SMBC, he is wearing a fluorescent orange button that displays his name, his aircraft N number/make/model (Cessna 182), and his home base (Lansing Municipal Airport, Chicago). The buttons make it easy for the pilots to find each other at fly-ins. “I don’t want to be a member—I just want to be part of this group,” he says.
The Sunday Morning Breakfast Club traces its very early heritage to 1959, when a group of pilots formed the “Get Away Flying Club” at now-closed Tinley Park. That club disbanded when the airport closed, but some of its members, flying out of other area airports, would tune in 123.45 MHz on Sunday mornings and ask, “Where are we going today?” The tradition continued with pilots using 122.75 and asking, “Where we going?” The slogan “Wherewegoin’ 122.75” is displayed on the backs of jackets worn by longtime members, and the group still talks to each other via that frequency.
With the advent of email, longtime member Mark Weincek created a mailing list and began setting destinations in advance. Weincek has since moved to the Spruce Creek Fly-in community in Florida, but he is still considered very much a part of the SMBC family. Each year a group of Sunday Morning Breakfast Clubbers flies down to the Sun ’n Fun Airshow and Fly-In, and he’ll host a cookout for them.
After Weincek left the area, MacCabe took up the mantle. He chooses destinations and tracks participation. He says he tries never to pick an airport that’s more than 100 nm from LOT. “If I stretch it, people start dropping off,” he explains. Another semiofficial rule: Patronize EAA chapter or other airport group breakfasts whenever possible. It’s worth noting that in 2010, the group attended breakfasts on 45 Sundays out of 52.
Frieda and Gordon Wilson fly a Cessna 182 based at Bult Field (C56) in Monee, Illinois, a 15-minute flight from LOT. “We started doing the flights 12 to 14 years ago,” Frieda says. “It keeps you brushed up—landing with a lot of other airplanes.” Her husband, who has been flying for 41 years, will task her with practicing the approach into an unfamiliar airport.
Now the count is up to 47 members. MacCabe wonders if he should start keeping track of how much avgas the group burns. He shrugs and makes a mental note to add it to his list of webmaster duties.
He introduces Zook Williams, a three-year member. Williams earned a private pilot certificate in 1998 and bought a Piper Cherokee 140 in 2007 that he keeps at Bolingbrook, Illinois’ Clow International (1C5). He enjoys the camaraderie he found here, he says. “I fly as a hobby—this gives me a destination to go to.”
There’s even been romance and marriage among the members. MacCabe met his wife, Carol, a student pilot, through mutual friends in the group. Mary Lou and Gregg Erikson met through the club and were married in 2010 at a maintenance hangar at Jasper County Airport in Rensselaer, Indiana (RZL). They stopped working on their Grumman Tiger’s annual long enough to hold the ceremony.
The Eriksons introduce Gregg’s son, Jeff, who flies for United Express. He says that he brought Dolly Madison Zingers snack cakes to the wedding ceremony because he didn’t think there would be a traditional cake.
The last to arrive this Sunday is Richard Kalamir, in a Cessna 182. He’s flown here from Porter County Regional Airport (VPZ) in Valparaiso, Indiana, and he has an excuse for his tardiness: He worked the previous night. MacCabe shepherds the group outside to pose for a picture in front of Arnie Zimmerman’s Breezy. Zimmerman, whose unusual open-cockpit aircraft has its own mailbox and a horn that goes “ah-OOO-gah!” has been giving rides to delighted kids all morning.
The crowd disperses, but not very far. There are airplanes on the ramp to admire, and friends to greet. A common refrain among these pilots is that if it weren’t for the Sunday Morning Breakfast Club, they wouldn’t need an airplane.
Don Alles and his friend, Vida Bernadisius, head to a Piper Seneca to prepare for their flight home to Meadow Creek Airport (2IL9). A friend teases Bernadisius, pointing out that it’s Mother’s Day. “Why are you here?”
She shrugs. “I want to fly!”