The Lyons Aviation Foundation was established to help provide opportunity through financial support and encouragement to young people, with an interest in obtaining certification as a private pilot.
The Lyons Family Story
On April 25th, 1935, though no one knew it at the time, a family legacy was born. That’s the day Rolf was born in Berlin, Germany. Our father, Rolf C. Lyons was born Rolf Csaba Sillay, in Berlin, Germany (we think). His early childhood years were uneventful, right up until they weren’t. At age 7, when the bombing of Berlin had started and showed no signs of ending soon, his family was nearly killed during an Allied bombing, whereupon he and his sister Bita were sent to “foster” children’s homes in the German countryside to escape the danger in major cities. Separated from their family, and soon separated from each other. He spent more than 2 years away from home, living with different families in the countryside and finally a boys’ home, where he was bed-ridden with polio for more than a year. Upon recovering and eventually returning to an unrecognizable Berlin, Rolf and his family continued to suffer bombing raids, separation from those who had once been playmates and now wore yellow stars, and rubble piles where their city had once been.
Through a life-changing turn of events, Rolf’s mom married an American. In 1947, his mother met James Grant Lyons, a US State Department Governor of one of the US-administered states created in post-war Germany. They married and the family immigrated to the United States in 1949, passing through New York Harbor and Ellis Island on the Army Transport ship George W. Goethias on December 6th. Settling in Alexandria, Virginia, Rolf entered Mount Vernon High School at the age of 14. Not speaking a word of English, he managed to graduate within a couple of years, become a volunteer firefighter in the process, obtain citizenship, and then join the United States Air Force.
His greatest memories from those first few years in America were that for the first time in his life they sat down to dinner together, at a table, as a family. And he felt safe. (There were some pretty good stories of all the interesting American words his new high school friends taught him too, but that’s another story!)
He graduated from high school, became a naturalized US Citizen, and assumed the last name of Lyons on May 11, 1955. Soon after, he enlisted in the United States Air Force on July 26, 1955; completed basic training at Sampson AFB, New York, in September 1955; and was initially assigned to Osan Air Base, South Korea, in 1956 as a ground-based radar operator.
Rolf went on to serve over 20 years in the US Air Force. A distinguished 20-year career of service to his adopted country that literally spanned the globe, with 17 different assignments including a year in South Vietnam. In 1958 Rolf earned his Enlisted Aircrew Member wings as an airborne radar operator, amassing over 2000 flying hours aboard RC-121 “Super Constellation” aircraft, before moving on to specialize in navigation and communications electronics. Ultimately earning the rank of Master Sergeant, his other duty stations included Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Nouasseur Air Base, Morocco; Sacramento, California; Marysville, California; Manila, the Philippines; Thailand; Biloxi, Mississippi; San Bernardino, California; and Wiesbaden, West Germany. He retired from McClellan AFB in Sacramento on December 1, 1975, whereupon he and his family settled in Rancho Cordova, California.
His childhood experiences could easily have jaded or crippled him, in more ways than one, but instead he chose to focus on the good that came of it, and lived his life with such a positive outlook and heart for service, along with the perseverance to do both well. He inspired all three of his sons to go on to have their own aviation careers in the Air Force, together having given over 90+ years of service!
In his honor, the Lyons family created the Lyons Aviation Foundation shortly after their dad died in 2018. The Foundation’s goal is to continue the family legacy and support young people in their dreams to fly by providing scholarships for their training.
So “Lyons” is the name our father assumed when he became a citizen of the United States. He met and married our mother, Dolores M on Oct 4, 1958. During their 55 years together, they raised three sons and enjoyed many stateside and overseas adventures, journeying to all seven continents with longtime friends and travel partners. Rolf was preceded in passing by Dolores, his wife, and granddaughter Sheena Rachelle. He is survived by three sons; James Michael and wife Kay of Harrah, Oklahoma; John Matthew and wife Keirsten of Spokane, Washington; and Joseph Mark of Thornton, Colorado. He is also survived by his sister Bita McMillan of Conyers, Georgia; grandchildren Justin Michael, Jaclynn Marie, Joseph “Mac” McLean, and great granddaughter Caitlyn Taylor.
It’s been very exciting to see our foundation grow, and we’re continually inspired by the young people who apply. It’s a competitive, merit-based program, with applicants nationwide.
I hope you’ll consider a donation, and also spread the word to anyone who is currently or may be interested in pursuing a career in aviation.