John Goerzen is a native of Kansan with aviation in his blood.
The former WSU student flies away as often as he can, but it’s not just for fun. He uses his personal plane, a Bonanza A36, to improve the lives of others – donating his flight time and personal funds to help make a difference in the lives of others.
Goerzen undertook his first volunteering in March as a pilot at Angel Flight – an organization that provides free medical transportation, for people who need non-urgent transportation to get to medical appointments.
Goerzen also volunteers with EAA Young Eagles who offers 8 to 17 year olds free rides by plane.
Goerzen graduated in 2009 from WSU.
“I was a very non-traditional student,” he said. “I only did two and a half years of high school because I took so many classes in Wichita state.”
Goerzen was on the fast track to a degree, but put it on hold when he accepted a job outside of Wichita during his third year of school. Upon his return to Wichita, he qualified for his degree in computer science.
Since then he has made a career in programming and systems administration.
Goerzen has worked for Fastly for about four years. Fastly is a company that provides hosting services for some of the biggest websites on the internet.
Goerzen said the job is to provide services for some social media, news and video sites.
He was the former vice president of IT and engineering for eFolder, a cloud backup and disaster recovery company. Goerzen wrote books on programming and operating systems and he has developed several programs as Free Software. He has been a volunteer developer for the Debian GNU / Linux operating system since the late 1990s.
It’s clear that Goerzen enjoys connecting with people as much as he enjoys riding. This is what originally brought him to Angel Flight.
He said that from the early days, as he pursued a pilot’s license, he wanted to find a way to use his airtime to give back to others.
Pilot with a goal
On her first trip as an Angel Flight pilot in March, Goerzen took an elderly woman and her husband to Amarillo, TX, after her treatment for advanced cancer at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas at Houston.
“It’s a long drive and she was quite frail,” he said.
Goerzen said the woman was clearly quite weak from the treatment. She struggled to get on the plane and got in the back. But her husband wanted to get up front in the co-pilot’s seat. Goerzen helped him get on the wing and enter through the front door.
The man told Goerzen about his memories of the various towns he had lived in as they flew over the sky as they watched the sunset over Texas.
When they arrived at their destination, Goerzen helped the woman out of the plane. There the woman expressed to Goerzen how much he had helped her.
“IIt’s a good feeling to do something right, ”said Goerzen. “It’s appreciated.”
While Goerzen enjoys doing what he does, that work comes at a cost. Goerzen donates not only his time but the wear and tear of his personal plane. The cost of fuel for these trips comes out of his pocket.
“Ever since I flew to Abilene, Texas, then Amarillo, then back here in Newton, it was, you know, several hundred dollars,” Goerzen said.
Goerzen said the costs are not covered – they are an additional part of volunteering.
There are a number of logistics that pilots doing outreach need to take into account that the average person does not have. He said you cannot accept money for theft, even if it only serves to cover the cost of this philanthropy.
“Angel Flight’s regulations actually prohibit pilots from accepting any kind of money for the flight, which I wouldn’t do anyway,” he said. “It’s not about making money. It’s about doing something for someone else.
Goerzen lives in an old farmhouse near Goessel that once belonged to his grandparents. His wife Laura is a pastor at the First Menonite Church of Christian in Moundridge. Together, they are raising three children aged three, 11 and 14.
“I try to teach children that everyone has gifts and that everyone’s gifts are different. But there are people who are less fortunate than us, ”said Goerzen. “If we pay attention, we will find that there are ways to use our gifts to help others. ”