Keeping the Spirit of Innovation Alive

Amanda Wright Lane, co-chair of the Rise. Shine. campaign, reflects on the legacy of her famous ancestors and the university that bears their name

We know them as the inventors of the airplane and namesakes for Wright State University. But to Amanda Wright Lane, Orville and Wilbur Wright are so much more than two of the greatest innovators who ever lived. They are family.

As the great grandniece of the Wright brothers, Wright Lane grew up hearing stories about her Uncle Orv and Uncle Will.

“When I was old enough to sit at the ‘adult’ table for Sunday evening dinner, the chatter around the table was often about Uncles Orv and Will. At the time, I never connected those stories to the ‘Wright brothers’ or the invention of the aeroplane,” she recalls. “Those stories were always about who Orville and Wilbur were as brothers, sons, uncles, etc.”

Sunday evening dinners were hosted by Wright Lane’s great aunts and uncles, who were well in to their 70s and 80s. But as direct nieces and nephews of the world-renowned engineering pair, they laughed and reminisced about the fun they had when their famous uncles baby-sat them at their bicycle shop.

“I love the fact that they both had incredible senses of humor,” says Wright Lane. “That sense of humor, particularly in Uncle Orv, manifested itself in practical jokes. My father would talk about the practical jokes that were played upon him as a young boy. Uncle Orv loved to tease. You knew something was up because his blue eyes would twinkle and his mustache would twitch.”

As she got older, Wright Lane began to know the brothers as men, not just as the fun, crazy, candy-making, puppet show–writing uncles she was introduced to as a child. She also developed an appreciation for Orville and Wilbur’s parents, Milton and Susan Wright.

While some parents might have scoffed at their children attempting to do what was once thought impossible—manned flight—Orville and Wilbur’s parents were always supportive.

“Their mother and father—and their brothers and sister—were incredibly encouraging. None of them said ‘you must be absolutely nuts,’” says Wright Lane. “With that kind of environment, you develop the courage to be able to think differently and pursue those ideas.”

Wright Lane believes it’s only fitting that a university in Dayton, Ohio, would be named in honor of the famed aviators. “I think they would be humbled,” she says. “They would be very happy about it, because universities are places where students can effect great change.”

As the distinguished honorary chair for Rise. Shine. The Campaign for Wright State University, Wright Lane is helping to shape the future of the university that bears her great granduncles’ names.

“Being involved with the university was not even a question. To me, it is absolutely home base for my family’s history,” she explains.

Wright State University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives houses the world’s largest collection of materials on the Wright brothers and their family. Deeded to the university by the Wright family in 1975, the collection includes thousands of photographs documenting the invention of the airplane, along with technical drawings, financial records, letters, diaries, and aviation awards and medals.

“The Wright Brothers Collection at Wright State’s archives was a resource that truly brought me closer to ‘knowing’ these two incredible men I had never met,” Wright Lane says. “I remember seeing their report cards as part of my first visit to the archives and realizing they weren’t perfect students! It made Uncle Orv and Uncle Will all the more real.”

While aviation experts from around the globe have traveled to Wright State to delve into the personal papers and artifacts of the legendary aviation pioneers, Wright Lane would like to see the Archives evolve into more of a community gathering place.

“This is a real opportunity for Wright State University to give our community the sense of ownership of a collection that continues to grow both in quality and in content, and in distinction, worldwide. In a word, it is a treasure.”

Preserving the legacy of her ancestors is important to Wright Lane, whether it’s at Wright State or in the community at large. She frequently speaks to groups about the Wright brothers’ contributions to the world of aviation. Wherever she goes, she meets people who tell her how aviation changed their lives.

“Aviation was the first technology that allowed all peoples of the world to ‘see’ every corner of our planet. Uncle Orv and Uncle Will’s muslin and wood flying machine started the human race on a journey that has taken us to the stars, and that journey has only just begun.”

Whether she’s speaking to a group of third graders, accepting an award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, or chairing Wright State’s Rise. Shine. campaign, Amanda Wright Lane continues the legacy of her two great granduncles who made the first flight and forever changed the world.

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