David Spano was born in Tampa, Fla., and loved watching the planes at a nearby small airport. By the time he was 17, he had his first flying lesson in exchange for mowing the grass on the runway and doing chores around the airport. It took him more than a year to get his license. It was like a dream come true.
More than 30 years later, he's piloted planes to countless places, including through the Grand Canyon.
"Flying became so natural to me," he said. "It is not a vocation or career. It's everything that I am."
Now, he's fulfilled another dream. He owns and operates SimplyFLY, a flight instruction school at Aurora Airport in Sugar Grove. He helps others fulfill their dreams of earning a sport pilot license, a specialized license for those just seeking to fly for fun and not for commercial use, he said.
He decided to create the flight school in 2008 when the economic downtown soured the construction industry, where he had worked for several years. He had always wanted to start a flight school and now, he thought, it was time to do what he loved.
Since that time, he has had 18 to 24 students at any given time and they train on his two Remos light sport planes. When he's not teaching, he attends local fairs and events with a plane to encourage others to sign up.
"I want to get people involved in aviation because it's fun," he said. "What's lacking in the industry, and it's been declining over the years, is that it costs too much to get a pilot's license and costs are too high for ownership."
Getting a regular pilot's license could cost roughly $10,000 between lessons, flying time and other costs. But when the FAA passed a new law allowing a sport pilot license with fewer requirements for people who fly under specific conditions, the costs dropped to about half, he said.
He's always enjoyed his license, which has even led him to pilot a plane with his wife, Kathy, through the Grand Canyon during a trip out West.
"It was just wow, it was just massive," he said of the canyon. "If you could just image what it was like millions of years ago with water rushing through it and the sheer beauty, it's beyond what I've ever seen."
And then there was the time when he, his then-girlfriend Kathy and another couple piloted a plane to Detroit for a weekend away. While about 8,000 feet up over Goshen, Ind., he handed the controls to his buddy and then decided to propose to Kathy.
"Her jaw just hit the floor," he said. "We knew we would be getting married, but she didn't expect me to propose up there."
He and Kathy have been married for about 16 years.
"It sounds like a cliché, but they say to do what you love to do and there's so much truth in that," Spano said.
Pizza publicity, Chicago style
Marc Malnati, owner of Northbrook-based Lou Malnati's pizza restaurants, flew to New York to provide a personal pizza to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. The comedian had previously bashed Chicago-style pizza, so Malnati had posted his response online, which gained traction until the show invited Malnati to appear. "It was really exciting, but nerve racking," said Malnati. "Going on to The Daily Show to defend deep dish pizza, felt like being a minor leaguer called up to play the Yankees. He is the quickest, funniest, most sarcastic guy there is. My adrenaline was pumping." Malnati and the company's expansion was featured recently on the cover story of the Daily Herald Business Ledger magazine.
Kokurz expands in Schaumburg
Keith "K.C." Kokurz said his Keith Christopher Entertainment Group has moved to a larger office in Schaumburg. Besides providing DJs for weddings, the company also produces 16 bridal shows throughout the area that attracts about 15,000 brides per year under the name The Windy City Wedding Show. In 2013 the company expanded into Wisconsin with two shows in the Madison area as well as three shows in the Milwaukee area under the name The Badger State Bridal Expo.
Paul O'Toole of Naperville has been named vice president of business development for Convenient Care Plus, an Omaha, Neb.-based health membership company that is expanding in Illinois and Tennessee. ... Al Lewek, owner & photographer of Lewek Photography & Frame Studio in downtown Glen Ellyn, has been elected to a 2-year term as a director on the Glen Ellyn Historical Society's board of directors.
Sona Chawla of Winnetka, president of e-commerce, has been appointed as president of digital and chief marketing officer, and Graham Atkinson of Evanston, chief marketing and customer experience officer, is set to retire in January from Deerfield-based Walgreens. ... Dora Lee McCracken, owner of Lindenhurst-based Cracken Cakes & More, is busy this holiday season making Crackens, monstrous cupcakes that are amply frosted. ... Michael G. Ankin, a pulmonologist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and its vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer, said the hospital has launched a new lung cancer screening program to promote early detection of lung cancer.
Dave Wynne, senior vice president of education, will be retiring from Elmhurst-based Stenograph, a manufacturer and marketer of shorthand machines and computer-aided transcription software. ... Katie Wood, the longtime executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, is now the interim president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. She's filling in for Mike Evans, whose contract was not renewed ... Gary L. Castagna has been appointed as executive vice president and chief operating officer of AMCOL International in Hoffman Estates effective Jan. 1. Castagna has been with the company for more than 23 years.
Martha L. Twaddle, who heads the palliative care program at Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, was named one of the 30 most influential leaders in the nation in hospice and palliative medicine. ... Murray Gordon, Maga Ltd. CEO and found of this family-owned insurance agency in Riverwoods, was elected to a two-year term at the National LTC Network, an alliance of distributors of long term care insurance. ... Katie C. Galanes is now an associate attorney at Grunyk & Associates PC in Naperville.
Sales associate Pat Bell with Century 21 Kreuser & Seiler in Libertyville has earned the Century 21 System's Centurion Producer Award. ... Condolences to the family of Joe Schwartz, the former president of the Addison Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s, who passed away last week.
•There's more to business than just the bottom line. We want to tell you about the people that make business work. Send news about people in business to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Anna Marie Kukec on LinkedIn and Facebook and as AMKukec on Twitter.