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April 4-30: Cajun’s Climb 2019 Kicks Off to Raise Funds for Aviation Dreamers

One year ago, the Santa Clarita Valley lost a son, a brother, a friend, a dreamer. Over the past year, that tragic loss has inspired a community to rally around aviation dreamers through Cajun’s Aviation Dream.

Cajun’s Aviation Dream is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to “carry on the legacy of Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno by helping stellar young Americans chase their own dreams to fly and pursue their passion for aviation,” according to the website.

Del Bagno, a United States Air Force Thunderbirds team member was killed on April 4, 2018 at 10:30 a.m., during a routine aerial demonstration training flight in his F-16 Fighting Falcon over the Nellis Air Force Base Test and Training Range in Nevada. He was 34 years old.

Del Bagno was not only an elite pilot in the Air Force, but he was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter, and a banner tow pilot, according to his biography. He also enjoyed snowboarding, water sports, and spending time with family and friends.

“Part of Stephen becoming a Thunderbird was inspiring kids to live their dreams and follow their passions,” said Jeannette Crowder, one of Del Bagno’s sisters and one of the founders of Cajun’s Aviation Dream. “Flying happened to be his passion.”

Through various fundraisers, the foundation’s founders hope to provide scholarships so that other aviation dreamers can have the opportunities and find their passions, just like Del Bagno.

In the year since his death, his family and loved ones have created a nonprofit and have already identified their first scholarship recipients, who will be attending the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Advanced Air Academy Camp this summer.

“It was a perfect pairing for us. We picked the advanced camp for the 16-18-year-olds. That’s the age Stephen was when he decided flying was his dream,” Crowder said. “When we were picking the kids (to receive the scholarships), they reminded me so much of my brother. This is an opportunity for them to learn and network with the aviation community in hopes of inspiring them to pick a path and find their dream.”

The foundation’s goal is to be able to fully pay for the whole trip for the EAA camp for two teens every year. One fundraiser they’re launching is Cajun’s Climb 2019.

“He was always down to do anything fun. Hiking was one of his big hobbies. He loved to hike,” Crowder said. “He loved Yosemite. He’d go back to Yosemite every time he could. He does a new hike there every time he’d go. Every base that he’s been stationed at, if there was a trail, he would find it.”

The fundraiser can take place anywhere. Anyone interested can register on the foundation’s website. Entrants can go on whatever hike they choose, take a photo and submit it to the website. One registrant from each of the three hiking categories will be chosen to receive a prize. Hiking categories include “Champion Dog Paddler” Hike, “Hero” Hike, and the “Big Cat” Hike.

“The names of the hikes are our specific nicknames that he would give certain people if you were in his close circle,” Crowder said.

“All of the proceeds going directly to the scholarship,” Crowder added. “It’s important to us that all of the proceeds go directly to the scholarship.”

The foundation is currently taking scholarship applications for the EAA Advanced Air Academy Camp 2020 camp. Applications close on December 31, 2019.

“I hope that he’s smiling down on us. I think he proud of us. It’s been hard and healing. It’s almost like he’s guiding it from above,” she said. “I feel like we’re on the path that he would want to be part of if he was still here.”