Mark Erdrich - US Army Veteran
I met Mark Erdrich seven years ago at an organizational meeting for creating a hub for Honor Flight in the local area. I had just moved to The Villages and my father was a career Navy man and I believe that all veterans deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices in providing all of us the freedoms that we enjoy and take for granted daily. Mark was a VietNam veteran and came home from a war where Americans were not very kind to our veterans.
He had an extreme interest in WWII veterans and realized that these veterans who had changed our world were rapidly dying and their stories were not being preserved. He believed in the Honor Flight program that he had heard about out of Ohio and researched Several hubs around Florida to learn and create a model that would serve our unique community. He exuded trust, confidence, knowledge and determination with his words that he followed with a course of action that created Villages Honor Flight within a few months of him joining the group.
Mark flew to several states and went on their flights to observe, learn and then come back and create a perfect model for us to follow. He spent thousands of hours creating a database for all the applications and information that we had received from Ocala, Florida from veterans they would not fly because they didn’t live in Ocala. We determined to service the five surrounding counties but never turned down a WWII veteran from anywhere if they applied to our hub.
The Villages, Florida is a unique retirement community surrounded by many other retirement communities as is a large part of Florida. Mark believed that our uniqueness required the Mission to be “ALL ABOUT THE VET.” In so doing, he created a program where the guardian and the veteran would develop a bond of friendship from the experience prior, during and after the flight that would serve as a friend for the life of the veteran.
This is the philosophy that was used in our preflight meetings, our social squad gatherings and during our squad time on the flight. After the flight, the guardian was responsible for creating a photobook for the veteran of their trip to their memorial and keeping in touch with them. When we had flown our 500th WWII veteran, we had a Grand Reunion and invited all 500 veterans and their spouses and their guardians. Mark’s comment as he gazed around the large auditorium filled to capacity, “We started as one and we are now all a family.” The outreach from the community, the families and the veterans was absolutely amazing.
Thousands of hours were spent creating the perfect day for each veteran, from the nitty-gritty details of airline tickets, TSA, bus schedules, food arrangements to those perfect unforgettable moments at the Changing of the Guard and the WWII veterans standing from their wheelchairs to salute, or watching them shake hands with their comrade. Senator Dole. Veterans received quilts from local quilting groups. Mail Call brought in letters from students in the local schools to local politicians all wanting to say thank-you, so many local and community members volunteered their time to make each of these missions possible, but none of it would have happened without the foresight and personal commitment to our veterans that Mark Erdrich had. One man can make a difference and Mark did!
- 1965-68 Enlisted in US Army; stationed at US Army School Europe in Oberammergau, Germany
- 1968-72 Attended State University of New York at Buffalo. Graduated with BS in Mechanical Engineering and BA in Economics. Worked as auto mechanic during college and had a lifelong passion for German cars. He drove 1000s of track miles at Mosport, Watkins Glen and Summit Point in his beloved BMW.
- 1972-85 Joined Eastman Kodak, Rochester, NY, in Machine Design Division and worked in various computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering areas.
- 1985-88 Lab Manager, Manufacturing Technology Research Labs, Eastman Kodak
- 1988-92 Assistant Director, CAD/CAM/CIM Line of Technology, Eastman Kodak
- 1992-98 Manager, Mechanical Design Center, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics Division, Eastman Kodak. (In 1995, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics was purchased from Eastman Kodak as a stand-alone company by Johnson and Johnson)
- 1998-2003 Director of Process Engineering, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Johnson and Johnson. Retired from Johnson and Johnson in 2003.
- 2004-2018 Managing Partner Merlin Associates, LLC, a management consulting company for Systems Engineering and Requirements.
- 2006-07 Chief Engineer, Myotech, LLC
- 2011 – 2018 Mark founded and organized Villages Honor Flight, a hub of Honor Flight Network. The initial goal of Villages Honor Flight was to fly all WWII veterans who had never been to WA DC to see their war memorial and terminally ill veterans to see their memorials as well. Mark served as the Chairman of the Board of a 501-C3 non-profit charity organization in The Villages, Florida.
He also served as the Hub Director and President of Villages Honor Flight. He flew 18 flights as the Flight Director. This organization has flown over 1000 veterans from five counties in central Florida at no cost to the veterans. Mark created the itineraries: which included bus trips to and from the airport in Orlando and WA DC, to the airline reservations, TSA requirements, to the scheduling of the War Memorials, feeding the veterans and Mail Call. Mail Call is the highlight of the trip for the veterans receiving mail from family, friends, students and community members who have written cards and letters thanking them for their service. This is all accomplished in a 24 hour day of recognition for these veterans.
In addition, he was the first person to create a “Flightless Honor Flight” to recognize veterans that were unable to travel due to health issues. This program has been copied and is being used by hubs throughout the Honor Flight Network now to assure all veterans have the opportunity to experience Honor Flight and be thanked for their service.
Mark believed all veterans who were honorably discharged deserved to be recognized for their service with Honor Flight. He designed a program that was used at the Bushnell Correctional Facility in Bushnell, Florida. Mark handpicked community volunteers to go to the Facility and reenact the Flightless Honor Flight.
Fort McCoy Veterans Home in Florida was also another venue to recognize and bring the Flightless Honor Flight to veterans unable to travel. Again, Mark organized the community volunteers to participate and recognize these veterans for their service.
In order to start the hub, Mark donated his personal funds to get the first flight off the ground. He continued to fund the organization until the community and surrounding counties recognized the importance of Villages Honor Flight and the recognition it provided for our veterans. He participated in our community parades honoring our veterans, advocated for Villages Honor Flight at fundraising events such as pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, golf tournaments and speaking engagements throughout the five counties. This included American Legions, Veterans of Foreign Wars, veteran clubs throughout the area.
Mark was an active member of the largest Vietnam Veterans group in Florida always supporting his comrades. He was also a member of the American Legion in Lady Lake, Florida currently the largest in the world. Mark was the Co-president of the WWII History Club in The Villages, Florida. He had a vast knowledge of WWII history, especially Britain, Germany and European theater. This club also began on Marks leadership a group of WWII veterans who could meet and visit and share their stories prior to the club meetings.
Mark also created a WWII Movie Club that meets monthly. Villages Honor Flight received awards from Lady Lake, Sumter County and The Villages for its contributions to the veteran community.
The City of Lady Lake recognized Mark’s contributions to veterans by planting two oak trees on Arbor Day 2018. The Villages honored Mark on Vietnam Veterans Day by planting an oak tree at the Memorial Park in The Villages, Florida.