Two old friends plus two nonprofit entities add up to dozens of youths given an opportunity to escape the cycle of gangs and violence in order to lead productive, successful and fulfilling lives. That’s what lifelong pals Terry Pershall and Sean D. Tucker are up to in their spare time.
Both men have carved out successful careers in their respective fields: Pershall as a real estate broker for Sotheby’s International Realty and Tucker as one of the world’s foremost airshow performers. The pair grew up in Santa Cruz.
“I’ve known Sean for more than 40 years,” Pershall says. “We met when he was just getting into the crop-dusting business.” Tucker owned a two-seat Pitts stunt plane, so he took his new buddy up for a spin.
“We took off from Watsonville in this open-cockpit plane,” says Pershall. “I’m wearing a leather helmet and goggles. I had the time of my life. That solidified our friendship.”
“I started flying in 1969,” Tucker says. “It helped me conquer my fears. You must be confident to fly—especially for the kind of flying I do. I have a high level of self-esteem because of my flying.” That awareness of self-esteem and the desire to help others achieve it is what drove the creation of his benevolent venture: The Bob Hoover Academy.
Tucker and Pershall are no strangers to the concept of giving back to their communities. Most recently, the latter stepped down from seven years as president of the Carmel Valley Angel Project, an organization that serves Thanks-giving dinner to Valley residents who don’t have the means to enjoy a bountiful holiday. As the pilot for Team Oracle, Tucker has flown nearly 2,000 performances at more than 525 airshows around the globe for millions of fans.
“For years, I’ve been donating aerobatic rides as auction items to nonprofits around the country that have raised more than $500,000 to date.” He is also Chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles® program, an organization that gives 8- to17-year-old kids their first free ride in an airplane in order to inspire a love of aviation.
The late Bob Hoover (1922-2016) was a giant among giants, a flyer’s flyer, a pioneering aviator whose reputation is among the pantheon of greats that includes Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong, Jacqueline Cochran, Yuri Gagarin…even Orville Wright—all of whom he knew personally. Another friend was Sean D. Tucker.
“Just before he passed, we asked Bob if we could name our nonprofit after him.” Tucker shares. “He enthusiastically said yes.”
Hoover was excited by Salinas-area resident Tucker’s vision and passion for the Academy. “There’s a huge issue with gangs and poverty in Salinas,” Tucker says. “These kids are DOA in regard to hope and self-esteem. They’ve been let down by the educational and judicial systems. But I’m a firm believer that in the United States your dreams are valid…no matter the color of your skin.”
Now in its fourth year, the Academy admits 20 students, grades 9-12. The concept is to motivate participants to engage in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics through the discipline of aviation.
“Once you believe in these kids and give them something to believe in, they go places,” Tucker avers. “This is hard work. The energy in the classroom is honest and electric. These kids leave all the crap at the door. You’d never know that they live the kind of lives they live outside.” The Academy works closely with the Monterey County Office of Education but as a 501(C)(3) is entirely self-sufficient.
“We operate as leanly as possible and our dollars need to go a long way,” Tucker explains. “I used my entire retirement program to get this off the ground. When you spend your own money first, you know how it hurts before you spend other people’s.”
The program costs roughly $250,000 annually. “But what’s a life worth?” Tucker asks. “How much does it cost to keep a kid incarcerated? Alternatively, we’re helping create motivated, proud, productive citizens.”
To aid in fundraising, Tucker has been lucky enough to have friends who believe in his mission. His friend, actor and avid pilot Harrison Ford came to Salinas recently to address the students. “He was overwhelmed with emotion,” recalls Tucker.
“As a result of his experience with the kids, he’s really helped in fundraising.” Predictably, aid has come from another buddy, Terry Pershall.
Pershall recently resurrected a decades-long tradition: a men’s trail ride that benefitted Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, naming it Encuentro de Vaqueros (“meeting of cowboys”). This past April marked the ride’s 30th year and the second under its new banner.
“We get guys from all over,” Pershall says. “Ranchers, businessmen, professionals. We have a great time, chase cattle around the corral and just have fun for the weekend. And it’s all for a good cause.”
This year, one of the beneficiaries is the Bob Hoover Academy. “Sean and I both have a calling to give back and help the community,” Pershall says. “There’s a lot of trust between us. He can call me from anywhere and I’d be there to help him if he needs it.”
Clearly, Pershall has answered Tucker’s call. “At the Academy, they’re saving lives one kid at a time,” he says.
Tucker adds, “I’m convinced that this is some of the most important work I’ll do in my life.” For a man of his accomplishments, that’s saying quite a lot.