The Air Zoo’s 2020 Science Innovation Hall of Fame & Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame Awards to stream on Facebook and YouTube, Thursday October 15th

Staff at the Air Zoo in Portage are busily preparing for the 7th annual Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards (SIHOF), which honors the heroes of our past through the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, celebrates today’s inspirational and dedicated teachers, and highlights the exceptional accomplishments of some of our region’s best and brightest students. What has typically been an evening of fundraising, dinner, music, awards, and celebration at the Air Zoo’s annual gala, will look a bit different in 2020. The 7th annual Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards will debut as a streaming event open to everyone, everywhere, at no charge on Thursday, October 15th at 7pm.

“This has been an interesting and exciting project,” states Nikki Statler, Director of Marketing at the Air Zoo. “We feel it is imperative that we celebrate these outstanding individuals in the absolutely best way possible. While our on-site gala is one of the highlights of the year, this virtual platform allows us the opportunity to share recognition of their accomplishments with the world, in a new way. And who couldn’t use some inspiration these days? We hope that there will be a large turnout as we recognize and celebrate all of our honorees on Thursday evening.”

The event will kick off at 7pm on Thursday, October 15, 2020, and is being hosted by the Air Zoo’s President and CEO Troy Thrash, and special guest Tim Keenan, the chairman of the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame. Attendees will experience the Air Zoo, from a new perspective as they fly (literally) through the Air Zoo’s exhibition floor, segueing into each portion of the event. The evening will begin with induction of the 2020 class of the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame (MAHOF), followed by recognition of the nominees for the Educator Excellence Award and then the Student Excellence Award recipients and this year’s Student Art & Science Award winner.

The program should last about an hour and can be found streaming on both the Air Zoo’s Facebook page (AirZoo) and YouTube channel (TheAirZoo). Guests are encouraged to register for the free event to stay up to date on announcements, streaming links, and additional related materials here or visit for up-to-date event information.

On behalf of the Air Zoo, the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, and Western Michigan University, Troy and Tim are proud to recognize the following individuals:

Lt. Col. Kelvin W.A. Bailey, USMC, Retired (deceased) – Dearborn
Prof. Harm Buning (deceased) – Ann Arbor
Capt. Ralph A. “Randy” Hotton, USN, Retired – Ypsilanti
Col. James W. Smolka, USAF, Retired – Las Vegas
Col. Robert F. Staake, USA, Retired – Kalamazoo 

Grace Boersma – Godwin Heights Senior High School (Wayland)
Mark Mattox – Allegan Alternative High School
Mary Phillips – North Shore Elementary (South Haven)
Thea Vaughn – Lake Center Elementary (Portage)

John Dirkse – Hudsonville High School
Meegan Heerlyn – Vicksburg High School
Hung Huynh – Portage Northern High School & Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center
Ranya Liu – Portage Central High School & Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center

Shelby Alexander – Comstock High School & Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center

Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame (MAHOF) 

Each year, the Air Zoo and the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame committee announces and recognizes a selection of men and women who have made significant contributions to aviation. This year, the induction of these enshrines will be hosted by the chairman of the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, Tim Keenan, and will kick off the virtual 2020 awards event.

The MAHOF portion of the evening’s event is sponsored by Pete and Barbara Parish. All MAHOF recipients have had their portraits sketched by artist Haley Ellis, daughter of former Air Zoo president and CEO, Bob Ellis. Following the ceremony, the portraits will be located on the kiosk outside of the Air Zoo’s education labs and will later hang in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame located in the Air Zoo’s East Wing.

You can learn more about the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame and all of its inductees at

Science Innovation Hall of Fame (SIHOF) 

Presented by Western Michigan University, this event recognizes West Michigan high school students, K-12 level educators, and local organizations and individuals who have innovated and excelled within, or shown exceptional support of, education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). Student Excellence and Student Art & Science Award recipients receive a $500 financial award. Educator Excellence Award recipients receive a $750 award to support their future dedication and opportunities as they continue to ignite young minds.

“In order to remain competitive in today’s global economy, it is critical for our youth to excel in vital STEAM disciplines. With over ninety innovative educational programs, including classes, camps, field trips, outreach, and 2020’s new Virtual Learning Labs we are working hard to spread STEAM initiatives in our region and highlighting local careers available in these important fields,” shares Air Zoo President and CEO, Troy Thrash. “Our hope is that the SIHOF awards play a key role in encouraging local students and educators to embrace STEAM education, ultimately helping to ensure a thriving local economy for years to come.”

The 2020 SIHOF Awards are presented by Western Michigan University and brought to you through the generous support of  Barbara and Jerry James; Bowers Aluminum, Clifford J. Mulder Retirement and Investment Planning of Raymond James; Dar & Mary Wellington; DeMent & Marquardt PLC; Donna Ward; Eaton Cummins Automated Transmission Technologies; Eric Dougal (HUB International; Esper Electric; First National Bank of Michigan; Kalamazoo Community Foundation; Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport; KSS Enterprises; Miller Canfield; Pete and Barbara Parish; Plante Moran; Quality Air; Schupan; The Tyler Little Family Foundation; Western Michigan University; WowToyz, Inc.; and Zoetis.

About the Air Zoo 

Located at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage, MI 49002, the Air Zoo ( is a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace & science museum with over 100 rare air & space craft, inspiring interactive exhibits, indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, hands-on science-based camps, and more.  For tickets and info, visit