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Women Celebrate 100th and 84th Birthdays Up in the Air

November 16, 1991

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ Rena Bookwalter had taken only a couple of airplane flights in her life until last week, when she celebrated her 100th birthday by going up in a biplane, a blimp and a helicopter.

″You’re never too old to learn and live,″ said Mrs. Bookwalter after the celebration with her friend, Marion Dodds, who enjoyed her 84th birthday in the same way.

The two women, residents of a Kissimmee nursing home, got their chance to take to the friendly skies while touring the Flying Tigers Warbirds Museum. Eddie Hammock, pilot-owner of a 1940 Waco biplane, offered free rides to anyone who felt up to it. He got two takers: Mrs. Bookwalter and Mrs. Dodds.

″They loved it,″ Hammock said. ″They wanted to go up again. When I found out they were both having birthdays in November, I told them I’d take them up then for free.″

Hammock decided to spice it up a little by contacting friends at Virgin Lightships and Falcon Helicopters to see if they, too, would provide free flights for the ladies.

They did. And the duo was treated Thursday at Kissimmee Airport.

″This is something I didn’t have a chance to enjoy when I was a young girl,″ Mrs. Dodd said between her blimp ride and biplane flight. ″I’m having fun 3/8″

Robin Berning, activities director at the nursing home, said she wasn’t surprised when the two women accepted the offer to go flying.

″They’re both real active and like to get out and do things,″ she said.

″Rena is just like a social butterfly,″ said Phyllis Marucco, in charge of medical records at the nursing home.

And Mrs. Dodds, like Mrs. Bookwalter, stays active, Ms. Marucco said, adding, ″Every outing that we have, she’s there.″

Hammock enjoyed the flights so much that he’s instituting a new policy.

″I just thought of it,″ he said. ″From now on, anybody who’s at least 100 years old who wants to fly in the Waco, I’ll take them up for free.″

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