Emily Meier grew up around airplanes. The same year she was born, her father Jim Meier was building his first plane in the family’s garage and basement.
“As a family, we would go flying every weekend,” Emily Meier said. When she was just 2 weeks old, her parents would strap her into an infant’s seat and fly in to airport breakfasts.
Circling back to many things in her life, Emily Meier is now on the Waunakee Airport and Pilots Association’s board of directors, and just as she did as a child, she’ll help serve up pancakes to the Waunakee community on Aug. 18 when the local airport hosts its annual Pancakes and Planes Breakfast.
Meier said she remembers helping out with the breakfast as a child.
“I say ‘helping’ very loosely,” she said, adding she was only 4 or 5 at the time. “All of the people on the runway were so gracious, and I have memories of my sister Kate and I serving.”
At the time, the breakfast was hosted from her parents’ hanger, and the event was in her backyard.
Flight brought the Meier family to Waunakee when Emily was just 3. Living in Oregon at the time, both of her parents were pilots and saw a for sale sign at a house on the Waunakee runway.
“They weren’t even looking for a house, but they knew with aviation as such a big hobby, it would be a perfect place to live,” Meier said.
While Emily is not a pilot, she said learning to fly is “in the cards.”
She has had an interest, but as a busy Waunakee student, she never had the time to train.
“I thought about starting training but never did,” she said.
After graduating from Waunakee High School, Meier earned her degree in secondary education from UW-Madison but didn’t want to teach in a traditional classroom setting. As a Waunakee Middle School student, she had been in the summer science program, where students camp for a week. She went to work in Washington as a wilderness ranger, then taught outdoor education at the Teton Science School in Wyoming. She then took on more administrative and communications work, and then went on to work for nonprofits.
Yet despite her appreciation for Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, she felt the tug of her Waunakee roots.
“Even though I absolutely loved and adored the mountains, there’s something special about the Midwest,” she said, adding she missed her family.
She then worked as the communications director for the Madison Audubon Society and did graphic design.
“I ended up missing the classroom dynamic,” Meier said, adding she also missed the students.
Last summer, she had been thinking about teaching but was picky about school districts. A colleague asked what she’d like to teach, and she said middle school social studies.
“No joke, one week later, there was a posting for a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Waunakee,” she said.
Meier applied immediately and contacted her former Waunakee Middle School teacher, Jay Farnsworth.
One day after last year’s airport breakfast, she was hired and started one week later.
“It was a whirlwind, but it was very serendipitous,” she said.
Being back in the Waunakee area and serving on the airport and pilot’s board is meaningful to her, Meier said.
“I’m working with the same people that welcomed me into the community as a kid. I have meaningful relationships with people who have been a part of my life. I’m not a pilot, but it means a lot to me,” she added
The spirit at the airport is community-oriented, and that’s the spirit of the annual breakfast – to reinforce the idea that the airport is a community asset and that’s what makes Waunakee unique, Meier said.
In addition to breakfast with fellow community members, plane rides offer a view of Madison and Waunakee.
“It’s perfect for kids,” Meier said, adding she sees how much joy her nephews get from seeing the cars and planes.
Meier’s father did finish his plane, a Sonerai II. She described it as an experimental aircraft with the same engine as a Volkswagen Bug, with two seats, fabric wings and an aluminum frame. Jim Meier flew it at the EAA Venture event in Oshkosh for several years where it received awards.
She described her father as an “adventure junkie,” adding that he took aerobatics lessons. Once, when she was a child aboard the plane, he asked her if she would like a bit of adventure and looped the plane.
“The horizon flipped, and my hair was hitting the canopy of the plane,” Meier said.
The family’s interest in aviation grew from Meier’s grandfather, John Schunk, on her mother Sally Meier’s side. He was in the Korean Conflict and flew aircraft carriers. Today, the family has his plane at the airport.
“I had a pretty awesome and unique childhood,” Emily said. “It was pretty awesome flying all over the place.”