November 9, 2016
A group of residents from Jacksonville memory-care facilities took turns climbing into the cockpit of a World War II-era biplane Tuesday for a chance to fly like they would have in the 1940s.
The day was full of patriotism as voters chose the next president of the United States with Veterans Day just a few days away, so the caretakers selected residents with ties to the military to go up in the plane.
Ed Kissam had one last thing to say to his longtime girlfriend before taking off in the Boeing Stearman aircraft built in 1940 that was used to train aviators during the war.
“I love you,” Kissam said to B.J. Summerlin as she leaned in next to the plane. She wasn’t surprised and simply replied, “I know you do.”
The 91-year-old Marine veteran sat in the front seat with Mike Winterboer of Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation ready to work the controls behind him.
Kissam smiled and waved to Summerlin and others from the Arbor Terrace assisted-living community as the plane left the First Coast Flight Center and headed down the runway at Herlong Recreational Airport.
Summerlin talked about how proud Kissam is of his time serving in the Marines during World War II as her companion circled the sky above the airport.
Kissam was the first orthopedic surgeon in Gainesville and the first doctor with an integrated waiting room in the county, Summerlin said. She said he was also the team doctor for the University of Florida football team when Steve Spurrier was the quarterback in the 1960s.
“He was always more proud of being a Marine than he was of being a doctor,” Summerlin said, despite all the former players who have approached him over the years.
Summerlin said Kissam was just 16 years old when he graduated high school, and he turned down a football scholarship to Clemson University for a chance to join the Merchant Marines. When he turned 17 he became a Marine and served as a navigator and bombardier during the war.
He had a huge smile on his face when the biplane touched down on the runway Tuesday afternoon. Winterboer autographed a hat for Kissam, and Kissam gave a big kiss to Summerlin as his peers cheered and took pictures.
“Some days they can remember and some days they can’t,” Arbor Terrace engagement director Mike Kaminski said of the residents. “So if we can make every day special, hopefully that means something to them.”
Mada Allen, 103, would have been the oldest participant ever to fly through the air in one of the Ageless Aviation planes, but she was uncomfortable at the last moment and chose to taxi around the runway instead.
Before she was strapped in, Allen said she flew in one of the planes in a previous year so she knew how thrilling the opportunity could be.
Her son Bob Brann was there for support and beamed with pride as he talked about his mother’s accomplishments as the first female salesperson for Florida Power & Light.
“When the electric stove came out, she traveled around teaching people how to use it,” Brann said.
Allen’s late husband was a Navy veteran and her son served in the Army, so Allen was participating in their honor.
The Atlanta-based Arbor Co. works closely with Ageless Aviation, so the three Northeast Florida branches donated a check for $2,200 as a token of appreciation.
Ageless Aviation is a nonprofit organization operated by volunteers who provide the flight opportunities across the country for members of the military community living in long-term care communities.
“In the past year Ageless Aviation has enabled 130 residents in 22 of our Arbor communities to realize their dreams of flight,” said Laura Ellen, vice president of engagement at the Arbor Co. “The $2,200 expresses our appreciation with a donation of $100 for each community they have flown for us this year.”
Organizers with Ageless Aviation said the donations are greatly appreciated, but they are not required in order to build a relationship.
Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308