Making History in the Present: Mike & Cheryl SiskNov 01, 2021 10:47AM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Entrepreneur Wally Byam is noted for saying, in 1916, “Don’t live in the past or future…Make history.” It’s a philosophy he has helped many people realize with the recreational vehicle he invented known as the Airstream.
That iconic invention that looks like a fast-food burrito wrapped in aluminum foil can often be seen rolling down the road in the Midwest during the summer, and in warmer spots during the winter. One of those aluminum RVs is the source of pride, and memories, for Omahans Mike and Cheryl Sisk.
The couple are members of the local Nebraska Airstream Club, and frequently travel with fellow club members to rallies, campouts, and festivals. Mike and Cheryl have taken their 2002 Airstream to the Canadian Rockies and Arizona, and have met hundreds of enthusiasts of these classic RVs.
“My parents were Airstreamers,” said Mike, although, at age 70, he did not grow up traveling by Airstream. His parents started this hobby in the late 1970s. “We did go camping when we were growing up. I’ve met some of the folks my parents Airstreamed with.”
Mike and Cheryl, age 69, took their two daughters camping in non-Airstreams when they were girls, and upon retiring in 2010, the couple returned to their hobby of traveling and camping. Their friends, however, did not enjoy camping nearly as much as the Sisks. The couple joined the Nebraska Airstream club and found the members to be kindred spirits.
The Sisks bought a 1992 34-foot Airstream in April 2013 from a friend of Mike’s parents in Arizona. A hailstorm dented it within two weeks, and the aluminum RV was ruined. The couple bought a 1991 34-foot Airstream that July, and subsequently joined the club. While camping in their 34-foot Airstreams, they saw a 30-foot version owned by a friend that they liked, and Mike told their friend, “If you ever sell that, please let us know first.”
The couple bought this 2002 Airstream Classic a few years ago, and have been happy with this purchase.
“We moved everything from the [34-foot] to the 30-foot, and everything fit,” Cheryl said. “The closet is smaller, but we worked it out.”
That is because this particular Airstream had one rarer feature they wanted, a slide-out panel that gives the couple extra room when the RV is parked, and this Airstream did not need much renovating. The previous owners had installed a vinyl plank floor and converted the sofa and dinette to leather, which the Sisks have retained. They have changed some colors on the inside, but prefer to spend their time camping with friends, and making new friends.
“They are wonderful people,” said Jamie Scott, campground manager at the Amana Colonies. Scott got to know the Sisks as the organizers of a rally at the
historic tourism spot in Iowa.
Wally Byam Caravan Club, International, identifies members in the Midwest as belonging to Region 8, which encompasses the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, and includes the following six clubs: Greater St. Louis, Iowa, Iowa North, Missouri Greater Ozarks, Missouri-Kansas, and Nebraska. People from all of these locations converged on the Amana Colonies from April 28 to May 2, 2021, for the Region 8 Spring Rally. Mike, then president of Region 8, was at the helm of the event.
“Over the course of a year it takes a fair amount of time and energy [to plan a rally],” said Greg Vadner, current president of Region 8 and a member of the Greater St. Louis club. “You need to search for sites, then you’ve gotta narrow those down to what will work. Then you’ve gotta start figuring out dates, you talk to the venue, figure out the terms of the contract. Normally by then you’ve gone to the venue. Right now I’m working on 2023. Mike would have been working on the Amana Colonies two years ago.”
The Sisks saw this as a labor of love.
“They took it upon themselves to learn about what we offer here in Amana so they could have give their group a great experience,” Scott said.
They arranged for the Iowa North group to cater a barbecue one night, the Missouri-Kansas group to cater dinner a different night, and the Missouri Greater Ozarks group to supply ice cream for dessert each night.
The ice cream likely was an accompaniment to a favorite camping treat of Cheryl’s, which the Sisks have introduced to several Airstream enthusiasts.
“We roast Twinkies,” Cheryl said. “It gives them a crispy crunch. They are good, and much less messy than S’mores.”
“We’ve spread the idea of Twinkie roasting around, and everyone seems to like them,” Mike agreed.
The affable couple brought their enthusiasm and love of Airstreams to the Amana Colonies.
“They were very welcoming,” Scott said. “I got to have dinner with them during the rally. They were interested in my background, in the backgrounds of the employees. That doesn’t happen with every group that comes here.”
Vadner said the event was outstanding, and he particularly enjoyed spending time with his fellow Airstreamers, including the Sisks, at the Festhalle Barn during the rally.
“It was relatively hot, and we spent probably two hours in the large building,” Vadner said. “[There were] kids who were singing and dancing, so it was entertaining. We had two tables and we probably had 20 of our members there—enjoying the entertainment and telling stories. Of all the things, I probably enjoyed that the most.”
Along with the club members wandering around the historic German colonies and participating in the annual Mai Fest events, the Sisks planned a multitude of events, including the “Airstream Olympics.” Mike thinks this was a first-ever event, and it included games such as stein holding, a keg roll, and a one-legged race.
“The gal from Amana gave us some prizes to hand out,” Mike said. “We had gold, silver, and bronze medals. Instead of putting beer in the steins, we put root beer in them. We had a plunger ring toss. One person had a plunger tied to their head. You threw pretzels and tried to get a ringer on the handle of the plunger.”
The couple are often asked about their classic vehicle, and they will gladly tell people anything they want to know, even offering to let people see the inside of the camper.
“I’d never been in one of those,” Scott said. “You can tell they love this. They take so much pride in it.”
While the Sisks are not in charge of the rallies next year, Vadner is sure that his friends will be in attendance (COVID notwithstanding, they have been to every rally since 2016) and he has been grateful that Mike has been a part of the process for the rallies he is planning.
“Mike been great to me [and Cheryl has, too],” Vadner said. “They’ve helped me move into the presidency. He’s been a great help to me…he’s like, ‘remember this, look for this in your contract.’ [He gives] pointers about other members that I don’t know—who’s a good candidate for this or that to volunteer for. [He’ll say] ‘Remember, at this dinner, we always have this event.’”
Airstream enthusiasts have a slogan that they join the club because of the trailer and stay in the club because of the people they meet.
“Some of these people have become lifelong friends,” Cheryl said.
This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.