South Holland man pilots his way into hall of fame
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org May 24, 2012 9:44PM
John Magon, a retired dentist from South Holland, poses at the Lansing Municipal Airport. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 28, 2012 12:51PM
It was back in 1965 that John Magon first looked to the heavens and decided he wanted wings.
He came home from his dental practice one day and told his wife, Pat, he wanted to learn how to fly.
She said no.
“Then she said, ‘We’ll learn how to fly together,’ ” Magon said.
Thus began a lifetime of adventure for the South Holland couple.
“I went up first,” Magon said of that initial lesson in a tail-wheel airplane. “Then she handed me baby Garrett (the youngest of their four children) and went up next. Her mother thought we were crazy.”
That insanity trickled right down to their children, all of whom are commercial pilots.
Magon and three other Midwest aviation devotees on Wednesday were inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame.
Though his wife wasn’t there to cheer him on — she died in 2002 — Magon said he couldn’t be more excited.
“This is an unexpected honor,” he said. “I never thought I’d be considered for it.”
He was nominated by the South Suburban Chapter of the Illinois Pilots Association. Chapter president Wayne Babiak has known Magon for 35 years.
“He’s very pro general aviation. He promotes light plane flying and he’s very big on safety. He is truly deserving of this honor,” Babiak said.
Magon grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side. He attended Wilson Junior College before being placed on the active Navy list during the Korean War.
“When I was in the service, I turned down the opportunity to enter the Navy Air. What did I know? I was young,” he said. “I didn’t have any interest in flying then.”
But by the time he was 26, he had a whole new perspective and a challenging new pastime.
Just don’t call flying a “hobby.”
“Needlepoint is a hobby,” he said. “You can put it away for six months and come right back to it. You can’t do that with flying. You have to keep up with the ever-changing industry. Rules, regulations and technology change constantly.”
Flying, he said, is a transport method that has to be taken very seriously, and one must keep current.
“If you took a pilot from 1965 and put him in a fiberglass-constructed plane today, he’d be totally lost. Everything has changed since then,” he said.
Over the years, Magon has logged 12,000 hours flying and 8,000 hours of instruction. He is a founding member of the RPM flying club. He coordinated and ran the All Illinois Air Tour and is current safety chair of the Flying Dentists Association. He also is a former president of the Illinois Pilots Association and continues to work as a flight instructor.
Magon, 79, retired from dentistry in 2001 but has remained active in the South Holland community, supporting Holy Ghost Church and School as well as the Elizabeth Seton Academy Scholarship Fund.
Flying remains his passion.
“Flying opens up a whole new world for you,” he said. “It introduces you to a bunch of people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
Magon said both he and Pat liked being able to travel in any direction, stopping wherever they pleased. The couple frequently flew out of the Lansing and Gary airports. They traveled to all four corners of the country, visiting Washington, southern California, Maine and Florida, as well as Canada and the Bahamas.
“I miss her,” Magon said of his wife. Not only was she his partner, she frequently handled all the charts and radio communication.
“But she’s with us; she’s everywhere,” he said.
Even as Magon was speaking of his wife, two of his children were in the air. Kate was captaining an American Airlines Boeing 767 from London Heathrow Airport to O’Hare. Michael was flying from Atlanta to Turkistan on Omni Air. Meanwhile, Christopher, who captains a 767 for American, had the day off. And Garrett was trying to get his dad’s Cessna 310 off the ground at Martha’s Vineyard, where it made an emergency landing after the throttle cable separated and he was forced to shut down an engine.
Losing an engine is not necessarily a catastrophic event.
“We’ve lost engines on landing before. When you lose an engine, you glide,” Magon said. “In all my hours of flying, I’ve had only three instances in which the airplane let me down.”
The perception that flying is unsafe is not a fair one, he said.
“If you die in an ordinary fashion, no one knows about it. But if you die in an aircraft, the whole world will hear about it,” he said.
A calm demeanor makes for good pilots and good instructors, he said.
“If you lose control of yourself, you lose control of the plane,” he said.
For more information on the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame, visit ilavhalloffame.org.