To sum up her life and love of aviation in a few words, Donna Wilson-Sommer says, “It’s been a joy ride.”
A Sequim resident, Wilson-Sommer said aviation has been her life for many, many years. If her love of flying isn’t evident in her numerous years of piloting, becoming an active member of several aviation organizations or if the plane props and aviation decor that fill her Sequim home aren’t enough, the 2018 Major Achievement Award she received on July 28 at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter Leaders Breakfast in Oshkosh, Wis., confirms her passion for all things planes.
At 84, Wilson-Sommer said receiving this kind of award made her feel like royalty.
“I felt like Cinderella at Disneyland,” Wilson-Sommer said when she received the award at the breakfast.
Nine EAA chapter leaders were recognized for his or her contributions to the promotion of aviation in their local communities, and Wilson-Sommer was one of the few recognized. She has been a member of the Washington Pilot Association (WPA) and EAA since 1972 and joined the Sequim EAA chapter 430 after she and her second husband Trent Sommer moved to Sequim in 1998.
Not only was she congratulated by other leaders and members at the breakfast, she also earned a special visit from the commercial pilot that flew her plane on the way to the award ceremony. Wilson-Sommer said she mentioned her travels to the stewardess on the plane and before she knew it the commercial pilot came to shake her hand, and at the end of the flight invited her to take a visit — and seat — in the pilot’s cabin.
“It was an experience,” she said. “That kind of respect, you can’t buy it.”
Finding her wings through mourning
Wilson-Sommer married her first husband Harold Wilson in 1956 and they became active in aviation in 1960 after returning to the Seattle area where they were active with the Navioneers and WPA.
She said her inspiration and love of flying started by sharing the passion with Harold and it was after his death at 45 that she was inspired to earn her private pilot’s license in 1980 as a widow caring for three children.
“I was mad at death,” she said. “I had no idea I’d ever fly.”
She also took over Harold’s WPA Treasurer term after his death and served as the WPA State president from 1985-1987. She also served as the vice president of EAA 430 from 2003-2005.
Later in life, two of her sons joined her in the Civil Air Patrol Seattle Composite Squadron where she was trained to be a search and rescue pilot and observer. She also joined the Greater Seattle Chapter of the International Women’s 99’s and was the project organizer for painting the Sequim Valley Airport name.
“I had a chance to blossom and be somebody,” she said. “I turned my ‘cant’s’ into ‘cans’.”
In her years of piloting, Wilson-Sommer flew all over the country. She later met her second husband Trent Sommer and knew they were a match when they discovered each other’s love for flying.
“We were made for each other,” she said.
They married and moved to Sequim and became a big part of the aviation community, opening their hangar for EAA 43o meetings, where it is still the chapter’s home until present, and Donna developed a passion for the Young Eagles and continues to volunteer her time to the program.
Wilson-Sommer held several different careers throughout her life, working as a contract draftsman for engineering firms, drawing plans at Todd Shipyard in Seattle and later worked for WACO Airplane company at Renton Field to redraft plans purchased from the Smithsonian for the WACO UPF-7.
She also earned other numerous awards in her lifetime, including: the Dick Corey Distinguished Service Award in 1984, Pilot of the Year Award in 1987 and 1988, the Bernie Lyman Award for contribution chapter size, strength and purpose in 1996; The Washington State Division of Aeronautics awarded her the Gerber Memorial Award in 1984 and Aviator of the Year Award in 1988, and she also won the the President’s Award for outstanding support in 2000 from EAA 430.
She also says she is a good organizer, and organizing monthly summer potlucks at the Sequim Valley Airport in her and Trent’s hangar. At 80, she and Trent started building an RV-12 plane in their hangar together. She said the Sequim Valley Airport is a great asset to the community.
“It’s been my life,” she said. “I’ve had a family of support.”
Her last flight she took she said she flew as a co-pilot in the plane she and Trent built in 2016. That plane sits in her garage at her Sequim home today. In her free time, Donna also enjoys watercolor painting commissioned portraits of planes.
“I’ve had an exceptional life,” she said. “I’ve had so many fun experiences with people.”