By Todd Travis
Hailing from a small city called Eleanor, Ind. (about 900 people there at the time), Roger Tomey has led anything but a small life. He moved to Indianapolis at age 5 and graduated from Southport High School. From there he joined the Air Force and served at Vietnam in Okinawa as a survival instructor.
After leaving the Air Force in 1972, Tomey moved back to Indianapolis and began working at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad while attending night classes at IUPUI. He was promoted to a position in Cincinnati with a company called Chessie System which later became CSX Corporation. He was promoted again to their first computerized yard as a car supervisor. He eventually made his way back to Indianapolis and stayed with CSX for 21 years and then worked for Amtrak for three years.
An unexpected blow
In his third year at Amtrak he was involved in an accident where someone turned the power on while he was working on the car.
“It blew me across the car – I was in a dining car which is stainless steel. While I was in the hospital, they went in to see how bad the damage was and I got a virus in my system which caused me to be paralyzed from the waist down for three months,” Tomey shared.
“It took me about a year to recover and I had to learn to walk again. That’s when the railroad told me to just take my retirement and don’t come back,” he continued.
The beginnings of a dream
Tomey didn’t let this incident define him. Instead he took it as an opportunity and decided to pursue a passion for flying that he had since he was a kid. He learned to fly at Indy South Greenwood Airport and finished his degree in labor relations at Indiana University. Finally being able to achieve one of his lifelong dreams, he started to think about how he might be able to help others do the same.
“I thought, there must be other kids just like me who have got the desire but not the means to do it, and I’d like to see what I may be able to do to help them,” Tomey remembered.
At that time, he and a couple other people got together and filed with the national EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) to have a chapter. They were chartered in 2002 as Chapter 1354, with the goal of getting kids involved with aviation. From that program, they expanded into the Young Eagle program, which gives kids free airplane rides from ages 8-17. The education they have been providing was a useful tool in partnering with schools and a very important measure to help with the predicted pilot shortage the country is facing.
“Aviation is a great way to show the practical application to the STEM disciplines,” Tomey pointed out.
Aeronautical Center for Technology
At one point, the mayor of Greenwood approached Tomey and told him about a couple guys who wanted to build an education center to help strengthen the program. That became the start of the Aeronautical Center for Technology, which is located at Indy South Greenwood Airport. They are currently partnering with Roncalli High School and several other school corporations around the Greenwood area to boost STEM skills and provide practical application for those skills.
The Aeronautical Center for Technology is a 501(c)(3) that is helping to fulfill Tomey’s dream to teach kids about aviation and to open opportunities for kids who couldn’t otherwise afford it. They are working to raise money both to provide scholarships to kids but also to provide the absolute highest quality facility for training including flight simulators and even their own aircraft. If you’re interested in donating or partnering, you can call 317-851-5245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view their website at aerotechcenter.org.
Tomey has done so much to make his hometown of Eleanor, Ind. proud. The A.C.T. is his dream realized – making a pathway for other young people to pursue and achieve their dreams.
What do you consider your greatest virtue?
The good Lord humbles me a lot. Anything that’s been accomplished has been because of Him. If anything, my virtue would just be doing what I can to help these kids.
What do you most deplore in others?
Telling me you’re going to do something and not doing it.
What do you like most about living in Johnson County?
I like the people, I like the small community. I think the mayor has done a great job with the airport and the city. The airport brings in about $25 million a year to the city of Greenwood. The fact that the mayor is truly committed to education as well. That’s very important.
If you had to live elsewhere than in Johnson County, where would it be?
Hawaii or Florida – especially if it was up to my wife – somewhere it would never snow again.
If you could begin life over, what would you change?
I would have gotten involved in aviation sooner. I would have definitely wanted to be in education teaching kids in aviation.
If money were no issue, how would you spend it?
I’d buy me an airplane! I’d have the Tech Center done, and it would have the best equipment these kids could use.
What makes you happiest?
Seeing people succeed.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
The Grand Canyon. I love going out West.
What do you do with idle time?
I don’t have any. If I ever do I try to find things that are interest to me education-wise.
What is it that makes you angry?
People not doing what they say they’re gonna do or someone belittling another person.
What do you do to escape from reality?
I pretend I have every rating and fly every plane there is. I also like woodworking – making chess boards and cabinets and other things.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
First, Christ and second, my wife.
Which living person in Johnson County do you most admire?
Dennis Kruckeberg, Allen Guff and Jim Baughman – they are the most ethical and faith-based men I know. Their guidance and support have been immeasurable.
What is the quality you most like in a person?
I like someone’s honesty and kindness. Character is more important than anything else.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Sweets. I’m a sugarholic.
What are your fears, phobias?
The unknown. When I read a book, I always read the last chapter.
What has been the happiest time of your life?
Teaching and being with my wife are when I’m happiest.
Which talent would you most like to possess?
I’d like to be able to assess people better, to know who I’m dealing with.
What do you most value in your friends?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Saint Peter – he sat there and said, “I believe in you, Christ,” and then ran like all get-out when He got arrested. The point is that we’re all flawed, but we’re also all redeemable.
What is your greatest regret?
Not getting into aviation sooner.
What tenet do you live by?
I have a biblical view of the world. I try to realize I’m no better than the next guy. I want to be able to forgive and move on.