The EAA community and all of aviation were saddened on Sunday, November 1, as Audrey Poberezny, wife of EAA’s late founder Paul Poberezny, died peacefully in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at age 95.
It is often said that behind every success, there are the unsung heroes that made it possible. For EAA, that was a role that was successfully executed by Audrey Ruesch Poberezny with grace, determination, and wisdom. EAA and all of its members over nearly 70 years owe her an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
“Audrey was indeed EAA’s First Lady and the quiet power behind the leader in EAA’s formation and development,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO and Chairman of the Board. “She supported Paul from the very earliest days of EAA, from being the sounding board for ideas and balancing the books, to answering the phone and typing out membership cards. Audrey did whatever needed to be done, but never sought the spotlight for herself. Her understanding of people was also a gift that helped EAA grow and thrive into its unique place in aviation, and her warmth will be remembered by all who knew her.”
Tributes to Audrey and her role in EAA’s success also came from throughout the aviation community. Among them:
“We are thankful that Audrey shared her (NAHF) Enshrinee husband, Paul, and Enshrinee son, Tom, with all of aviation and made room for their family to dream and grow an institution.” – National Aviation Hall of Fame
“Audrey was the First Lady of EAA and together with Paul built an organization that is the backbone of sport aviation around the world.” – Jim Irwin, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty
Although Audrey stepped away from public events following Paul’s death in 2013, she did return to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2014 to accept the organization’s highest honor, the Freedom of Flight Award, in recognition and thanks for all that she did to build the organization. Audrey was also interviewed in 2019 in advance of the 50th consecutive EAA fly-in at Oshkosh, an interview that was part of an evening program at the event. Here is a link to the interview https://www.eaa.org/videos/6172476545001
Audrey was born January 24, 1925, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Thomas and Lillian Ruesch. She attended West Milwaukee High School and was often voted “best dressed girl in school.” There she also met young Paul Poberezny, who the family noted was never considered for anyone’s best dressed list, yet in 1944 became her husband for the next 69 years.
Audrey is known to many in aviation as the “First Lady” of EAA, the aviation organization she and her husband founded in 1953 while he was serving in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. Because Paul was gone so much, it was up to Audrey to provide the continuity to keep the organization going during those early years. Paul often said, “Without Audrey, none of this would have happened.”
Audrey never sought a public role while building what quickly became a worldwide organization, choosing instead to work diligently behind the scenes to ensure things stayed on track. Her consistent leadership, strong administration, and people skills led EAA through the first formative decades. You always knew exactly what Audrey had in mind. There was no gray area, no vacillating. She never lost focus.
In the early years, she also worked alongside the volunteers, helping clear the site for the first EAA fly-in convention, beginning more than a half-century of Oshkosh conventions. Later on, she greeted guests from around the world, ensuring they had a most memorable experience. She was always there, fingers on the pulse, always ready to steer the ship.
Although not a licensed pilot, Audrey knew her way around airplanes – both inside and out. Displaying a fearless streak, she became the family’s first – and only – wing walker. She was also an extremely skilled seamstress. Paul took advantage of this and put her to work stitching fabric for his many aircraft projects. She also enjoyed crocheting items for a local hospital.
When great-granddaughter Charley arrived, Audrey headlined four generations of Poberezny family females, another highlight in a life full of highlights. She once hinted it was her favorite.
Audrey was preceded in death by husband Paul (2013) and is survived by her son, Thomas (Sharon) Poberezny; daughter Bonnie (Chuck) Parnall; granddaughters Lesley Poberezny and Audra (Dave) Chaimson; and great-granddaughter Charlotte “Charley” Hoy. All currently reside in Wisconsin.
At this time, only a private family service is scheduled. In lieu of flowers, memorials in honor of Audrey’s life and legacy can be made to the Evergreen Foundation, 1130 North Westfield Street, Oshkosh, WI 54902.