The Air & Space Museum in Denver is closed today, Friday, June 14. Plan your next visit. 

Meet Steve Bates

Board member, volunteer and valued donor to Wings Over the Rockies™.

We are thrilled that our paths crossed nearly ten years ago after Steve’s children attended our summer camps. His passion for philanthropy, history, aerospace and education has resulted in incredible generosity to Wings and allowed us to continue and expand many of our education programs. As the son of an early aerospace draftsman, Steve has loved spaceflight and aircraft since he was a young child. It was a visit to the museum with his late father where he saw the joy in his dad’s face when he encountered the historical tools he used as a former “human computer” in designing the Atlas missile that cemented Steve’s commitment to Wings. Read on to learn more about why Steve supports Wings Over the Rockies, as well as his work on the enhanced Wright Flyer Exhibit opening on December 17th, 2023.

Steve Bates in front of the B-18 at the Air & Space Museum

Do you have any personal connections or experiences that have shaped your interest in Wings mission?

Some of my earliest memories are of aircraft. Both my father and mother worked in the aerospace industry at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s-60s. Growing up, I was always going through my dad’s library of historical aircraft books, building scale models, drawing spacecraft, or going to air shows with my father. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love airplanes. Both the science of how they work and the stories of those who designed, built and flew them fascinate me, which is why I am so passionate about Wings’ mission to educate, inspire and excite all people about aviation and space endeavors of the past, present and future.

Before I started volunteering, my kids attended Wings summer camps, so I saw first-hand how Wings’ programs could ignite a passion for aerospace. I’ve been able to watch the impact that those early formative experiences at Wings have had on my children. Today, my son is involved in his high school aerospace and physics clubs and is even leading a service project for Wings. I give to Wings as a tribute to my dad to thank him for bringing me this passion and passing it on to my kids. When I see the historical draftsman work station exhibit and the tools he used to perform those complex calculations all those years ago, it makes me happy.

Can you share a personal story or experience that influences your decision to support Wings Over the Rockies for so many years?

I brought my father to Wings before he passed away. During the 1950s-60s he worked for RCA’s Missile Division, General Atomics, and Lockheed, building and deploying the Atlas missile. This was a time before computers, and thousands of engineers and draftsman like my dad were the computers, doing incredibly complex math to calculate everything from the heating effects on the payload to re-entry guidance for manned space flight. He lit up when he saw the vintage draftsman table for the Titan program, spending more than a half an hour talking about the tools of the trade that he had used. Seeing his love and excitement about one of our lesser-known Wings exhibits coupled with my children’s experience at summer camp here, made it an easy decision to get involved.

Over my career, I traveled to over 40 countries and visited numerous air and space museums along the way. The unique thing about the Lowry museum is its connection to Colorado’s incredible aerospace history, both civilian and military. We have artifacts that are one of a kind, or one-of-a-few, left in the world. In my experience, we easily have one of the top 10 museums in the world here at Wings and I am proud to support it.

Why is philanthropy important to you? What role does it play in your life?

Our family motto is: See a job, do a job. It was in that spirit that my wife, Susanne, and I established the Bates Family Foundation. We are big believers in the power of giving of Time, Talent and Treasure. Everyone has one of those things. It is our responsibility as members of the community to give back. We believe that giving back ignites the human spirit and I encourage others to do so. We decided the Bates Family Foundation would be dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for our local community. For me, Wings is the ideal organization to support as it educates, inspires and excites. I wanted to go beyond just writing a check and be part of the fabric of this organization, so I am privileged to serve on the board of directors, volunteer with visitors and financially support our mission; something I get to see in action almost every day.

Too often, philanthropy is seen as something only for the wealthy, but it is something every single one of us can, and should, do. In our family, you see a job, you do a job. This is of the essence of philanthropy – as you find a need and fill it with one of your own resources – time, talent or treasure. If each of us took one hour a week to give back, our fractured world would be a better place.

Why did you choose to make such a generous gift to update the Wright Flyer exhibit?

The Wright Brothers have always been the quintessential American story which I value. Ingenuity, bold experimentation, family working together. When I’m giving a tour to school-aged kids or adults, I like to spend time talking about why the Wright Brothers were successful while everyone had previously failed. I believe one of the biggest reasons for their success was due to the fact that it was a family affair and experience. When guests look at the Wright Flyer, they are drawn to its story and want to experience it. The former Wright Brothers exhibit at Wings was aging, so it was the perfect opportunity to reimagine it and create a world-class exhibit that tells the story of the Wright Brothers within the context of their time. This exhibit won’t be just about static artifacts. Instead, it will be an interactive experience by taking the guest through the entire story of the Wright Brothers. Guest services or volunteers will be there to answer questions like: “Why is the plane shaped the way it is? Why is it made of cloth? Why are we on a sand dune?”. When the new Wright Brothers exhibit opens on December 17th, which happens to be the 120th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flights, it will educate, inspire and excite.

Are there any specific programs or initiatives within Wings that you feel particularly passionate about supporting?

The amazing things about Wings Over the Rockies is the sheer number of educational opportunities available, from their Wings Aerospace Pathways enrichment program to the museum, Teacher Flight, the Speaker Bureau and so many others. I believe that making technology accessible to all students is important to their education so last year we purchased 3D printers for Wings Aerospace Pathway allowing students to render models more quickly and interact with design software. I’m also a huge fan of Wings Exploration of Flight location because it brings the opportunity to interact with active aircraft and advanced simulators. From researchers combing through our archives, to teachers going out on flights in vintage aircraft, to veterans from around the world sharing their stories, I enjoy all the various ways that Wings educates people about the aerospace industry.