Dec. 20, 2020, will mark 25 years since Dave Gonnion’s son, David, who was a sophomore at Embry-Riddle, was killed while a passenger in a small plane that crashed in Ohio.
He and his wife, Nancy, were devastated by the news, but wanted to do something positive to honor their son, who had wanted to fly since he was a child. So they created an endowed scholarship fund to help other aspiring pilots reach their dreams.
“We founded the David Gonnion Memorial Scholarship Fund at Embry-Riddle in January 1996 to honor David’s memory, his passion for aviation and his determination to achieve his personal goal of a career in aviation,” says Dave Gonnion.
Thanks to the university’s Scholarship Endowment Matching Challenge, announced in 2019, the Gonnion family was able to double their impact when they added to the Gonnion Memorial Scholarship fund this year.
The additional funds will enhance the scholarship, ensuring David’s legacy will continue for years to come. It will also allow the Gonnion family to help more Embry-Riddle aeronautical science students, who share their son’s passion for aviation.
Launched by the Embry-Riddle Board of Trustees at the direction of Chairman Mori Hosseini (HonDoc ’13, ’78, ’79, ’82), the program encourages donors to make lasting gifts to the university — those that will provide students with tuition assistance, in perpetuity from endowed funds. The challenge matches, dollar for dollar, cash gifts or pledges (during a term of up to five years) that total $100,000 or more that are directed to scholarship endowment funds at the university. To date, the program has generated more than $1 million in new scholarship contributions. Combined with the university’s match, this equates to over $2 million in new endowed scholarships to benefit students.
Dave Gonnion says the match will allow his family’s scholarship to help more students in need.
“We hope to provide a permanent, perpetual memorial and recognition of David, and his personal attributes and values,” he says. “We hope that we’re able through David’s scholarship fund to assist others who share his passion for aviation in the pursuit of their own aviation career.”
The Ties that Bind
While his son’s time at Embry-Riddle was short, it was significant and established ties between the university and the family that remain today. One such tie is a longtime friendship between Dave Gonnion and his son’s former flight instructor Joseph A. Divincenzo (’95).
“Every year on the anniversary of David’s accident, Joe calls me,” Gonnion says. “Joe exemplifies the kind of compassion and personal character that we have come to learn dominates the ERAU culture.”
His daughters, Melissa Kroll and Sara Emmons, are also supportive of the scholarship. Melissa says she remembers her brother’s room being always full of model airplanes and posters of fighter jets. He studied finance at Iowa State University for a year, then told his dad he was determined to transfer to Embry-Riddle so he could follow his true passion: flight.
“I could tell when he came home after that first semester, he was truly where he was meant to be,” Kroll says. “He was at peace while soaring amongst the clouds. We know he would be proud to continue to help others who share his same love for flight.”