Pilots Club International historical photo

Pilot International had their first meeting on Oct. 18, 1921. This year, the international clubs turned 100 years old. Their headquarters is in Macon, Georgia.

Pilot International had a centennial celebration last month on Founders Day, Oct. 18, 2021.

We have three different Pilot Clubs here in Citrus County — the Crystal River Pilot Club, the Gulf to Lakes Pilot Club and the Rails 2 Trails Pilot Club.

As with other organizations some clubs in and out of the country have aged out, but new ones always emerge.

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They are not actual Pilots, but a huge service club that stands for friendship and service that is part of Pilot International, which is also in other countries with new ones pending.

The club’s focus is on brain safety and supporting their community’s needs. They also do a puppet show for children and in nursing homes to educate the importance of brain safety.

According to the Pilot international website, they have thousands and thousands of members with clubs all over the U.S. and around the world.

They were founded Oct. 18, 1921, in Macon, Georgia, by Elizabeth Leonard and 40 local businesswomen. Lucy B. Allen was the first president.

Collett Cross is the current president of Pilot International that has headquarters in Macon, Georgia. Cross is from the Mississippi district.

The name “Pilot” was motivated because of the riverboat pilots during that era who represented leadership and guidance.

Pilot club principles are “friendship and service,” their motto is “True Course Ever” and their emblem is a “riverboats pilot’s wheel with eight spokes.”

Collett Cross said, “Pilot International celebrated twice for their 100th year. First in Atlanta, Georgia, this summer at their national Convention in July and again on Founders Day, Oct. 18, 2021, the actual 100th year date, in Macon, Georgia.” with numerous club members from all over attending.

Besides having clubs all over the U.S., “Pilot Clubs are in Japan, Bahamas and South Africa,” said Cross. “The Turks and Caicos are now approved, and we are talking to two other countries — Austria and Canada.”

During Pilots centennial celebration, President Cross “challenges each club to touch 100 lives during the 2021-2022 year.”

Kathryn Christmas, president of the Gulf to Lakes Pilot Club, treasurer of Pilot Scholarship House Foundation and membership coordinator appointed by the Pilot Florida district governor, attended the first 100th celebration in Atlanta with Diana Kingree, president of the Rails 2 Trails club.

“It was a beautiful celebration and I got to take a lovely educational tour on a bus while there and the different flags displayed moved us to tears,” Christmas said.

“We have three scholarship houses for girls in college and one for boys, with a fifth one in the works,” she noted.

Jeanmarie Patterson is also in the GTLP club was invited by her friend and longtime Pilot Wally Faherty to a meeting. Then, she was hooked on Pilots especially because of their support for brain injuries, Pilot scholarship houses for those qualified in college who need free housing and her interest in the Brain Minders program of puppets and coloring books to educate the importance of brain health.

“I love the mission of Pilot International, and being a Pilot member has offered me to come together with like-minded ladies and serve Citrus County in friendship and service,” Patterson said.

Some of their county projects are CREST School, Find-M’ Friends, Sheriffs Youth Ranches, Pilots Scholarship Houses, and Safe Harbor Fund, helping those with natural disasters, etc.

Nancy Wilson is president of the Crystal River Pilot Club. Her sponsor was Stephanie Price, a member since 2004.

“We have emeritus members who joined in 1979,” Wilson said.

“We are dedicated, committed, and loyal — we Pilots are to ‘Do More, Care More and Be More’ in our community and beyond, providing support both hands on and need encouraging,” Wilson said.

The Crystal River club gives two $750 scholarships to Crystal River High students in memory of Pilot Barbara Utsey, promote brain safety, caring for families in need and encourage youth leadership and development.

“Another way we ‘Care More’ is giving Pick Me Ups to serving caregivers — first responders, residents and employees at assisted living units,” Wilson said.

They give gas cards to Crystal River Meals on Wheels drivers, goodie bags to hospitals and ER workers, school supplies, donate to CASA, Jessie’s Place and Veterans Homeless Shelter, contribute to Wreaths Across America and more.

Gail Granger has been in the Crystal River Pilot Club as an officer and member for many years. The Crystal River club is now in its 43rd year.

“During all those years, the Pilot ladies have assisted the residents of Crystal River and the entire community. When I joined, I never dreamed I’d be painting fire hydrants, fitting bike helmets on hundreds of children’s heads, visiting multiple nursing homes to sing with patients, serve cookies, bring homemade holiday room decorations and just leave a smile. I also helped set up the club’s ‘Christmas in September’ show many years ago,” Granger reminisced.

“When I was invited to attend regional, district and national Pilot meetings, that’s when I saw the bigger picture of Pilot and I was so impressed,” she said. “It’s all the Crystal River members who have given so much and done so much good.”

Longtime Pilot Diana Kingree has been a charter member of all three county Pilot Clubs and is the president and founder of Rails 2 Trails, a 5-year-old club, which has both atending members and also virtual members.

She is chair of the United Way and is a nonprofit consultant.

Kingree was a Pilot officer many times, was the Florida Pilot district governor twice and was a past Pilot International president.

“Rails 2 Trails supported the ‘All Kids Bike Program’ for the Phil Royal Foundation, giving out and fitting 1,900 helmets to children,” Kingree said.

They donate to Pilot Florida Scholarship Houses, the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition giving 125 bags of water and food to those living in the woods, and we create fidget aprons for those with autism, Alzheimer’s,” she stated.

Sheryl Merrey, former president of the Crystal River club and 12-year coordinator of three Anchor Clubs, geared for high school students, with the Atlanta Pilot Club.

Merrey was a popular president of the Crystal River Pilot Club and said she loves working with the Anchor Clubs and loves all her Pilot friendships she’s made over the years.

“I attended the 100th year Pilot International Celebration in Macon, Georgia, this year,” she said. Her Atlanta Club is also very involved in their community.

Charlotte Edenfield is today’s Pilot Florida district governor. “I once lived in a Pilot Scholarship House while attending Florida State University,” she said.

“When I graduated with a business administration degree, they asked me to join Pilots and I’ve been a Pilot ever since,” she said.

She’s been a member of the Tallahassee Pilot Club for 33 years.

Each community has different needs. “What works in Tallahassee is different than what is good for the Crystal River community,” Edenfield said.

“Pilot International’s mission and vision is: more involvement in each community,” she said.

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