Duo visits Carson City in tour of capitals
When Garrett Burgess came to his father for help in identifying the state capitals as part of his fourth-grade homework, Benton Burgess wasn’t much help.
“Garrett and I got into a debate,” Benton recalled. “I told him Pierre was not the capital of South Dakota. I was wrong, of course.”
Now they’re learning the state capitals together — first hand.
The two are spending the summer flying in a 1981 Piper Saratoga to every capital in the nation, excluding Hawaii. They arrived in Carson City around 7 p.m. Thursday.
While honing their geography skills, the duo is also raising money for spinal cord injury research to help fund the opening of a pediatric rehabilitation center in Boston, near their hometown of Chelmsford, Mass.
Garrett has been a quadriplegic since a car accident six years ago.
“Back then, the treatment landscape was very bleak for someone with spinal cord injury,” Benton explained. “Since then, numerous doctors and scientists have made significant gains toward an SCI cure.
“They have progressed to the point where funding is their biggest limitation, not medical breakthroughs and knowledge.”
Garrett’s mother, Laureen, and 9-year-old sister, Alex, flew in to meet him for the weekend in Carson City.
“Knowing we were coming here was the only thing that kept us going through the last couple of weeks that they’ve been gone,” Laureen said. “And this is a beautiful area, something we’ve never seen before. So it’s a double enjoyment.”
Yvon Weaver, manager of the Carson City Airport, arranged for a free hotel stay, donated by Dwight Mallard, and welcome packets from the mayor, sheriff, governor and visitors bureau.
“Something about them just touched a chord with me,” she said. “We’ve spoken on the phone so many times, it’s like we’re family now.”
The highlight of the Carson City stay was a flight to Lake Tahoe in Dennis Buehn’s 1951 Grumman Albatross plane Friday morning.
The amphibious sea plane landed on the water.
“It was amazing,” Garrett said. “You get to see the floaty parts touch the water and see it spray up against the windows. Plus, I liked the bed on the plane.”
The family spent the morning on the beach and returned in the afternoon to do some sightseeing around town, including trips to different museums.
Carson City is the 33rd capital in the series, with about two weeks left to complete the journey.
Benton said his wife had reservations about the trip at first and admits he had his own doubts in the beginning. But he was buoyed by support from others.
His flight instructor, Dave Schoneman, volunteered to fly with them, another pilot arranged for a plane and donations, another took care of upgrading the plane.
Schoneman’s 10-year-old nephew, Zach, joined the flight in Ohio to keep Garrett company.
A member of the Emergency Nurse Association contacted members across the country to help at each landing site.
“Originally, we thought that this would be a trip to see the different states,” Benton said. “But it has turned into an eye-opening view of human generosity.”
YOU CAN HELP
To make a donation to spinal cord injury research, visit the Burgess’ Web site at http://www.nesci.us.