ETCETERA - Octogenarian finds skydiving ‘exhilarating, invigorating'


Inspired by a daughter who bungee-jumped on her 50th birthday, Walla Wallan Sharon Ford was compelled to greater heights when her 80th birthday rolled around this month.

She opted for skydiving.

"I love flying and if I was younger and didn't have eight kids I would have taken up flying," she said.

When she mentioned her desire to her family, "it snowballed and the grandkids and kids started talking about it."

The longtime teacher's aide who retired from Walla Walla School District, headed to Ritzville July 2 for the experience with husband Dale and most of their adult children in tow. There were 10 in her skydiving party, including four of her 13 grandchildren and four of her children.

"The jump was exhilarating, exciting, invigorating ... every word you can think of - just to be out in the atmosphere, free as the breeze," she recalled. "It was everything I expected and more."

West Planes Skydiving Center jump instructor Noe Cortez "showed me how to bank it and we did some circles."

Sharon was in a harness firmly attached to the very experienced instructor, who she thinks cushioned the landing. As they neared the drop zone, he kept saying "pick your legs up, pick your legs up."

"They're up as high as they'll go," she responded.

"At 80 you're not real flexible, so I couldn't get my legs up any higher," she mused later.

Sharon led the pack out of the plane, chuckling that she was the "less important one to go and (the others) all have families to take care of."

But weather conditions weren't optimum for everyone to jump, Sharon said. Sons Mike Ford, director of an MRI clinic in Los Angeles, and Jeff Ford, an insurance agent in San Dimas, Calif., did make it, though. After they landed, "We all said, ‘let's do it again!'" Sharon said.

"By gosh, it was really neat," said Dale, who watched from the ground. They took videos of Sharon's feat and later reviewed the action, watching her get in the plane and later jump out.

Only daughter Gale Petersen, a homemaker in Vancouver, Wash., was unable to attend Sharon's celebration weekend.

The couple's other daughters hosted a party at Assumption Catholic Church for Sharon on July 3 - her actual birthday. "We had a terrific weekend," Dale said. About 100 people attended the party at the church. "I had so many people congratulate us on our family. That made our day. It really made us feel good. They've all done well for themselves," Dale said.

Daughters include Deborah Hudson, a homemaker from Cheney; Heather Kautzky, a department manager at Boeing Co. who lives in Sammamish, Wash.; Dawn Wilhelm of Liberty Lake and a speech therapist at Medical Lake; and Jennifer Marsh, a teacher near her home in Rathdrum, Idaho.

Mike and his brother, Steve Ford, a patent attorney in Portland, took three days to get to Walla Walla, riding bicycles with Steve's friend Denise Dazzito.

This has been a banner year for the Ford family in terms of milestones. Jennifer's husband, Kevin Marsh, a chiropractor, competed in the Iron Man contest in Coeur d'Alene. He's competed for several years and was pleased to knock 30 minutes off his previous time.

After a long career with the school district, Dale said Sharon wanted to become a teacher. She earned her teaching certificate from the Washington State University campus in Tri-Cities, taught for one year and then retired at age 69. Dale spent 50 years as the Chevron Oil distributor in Walla Walla. He's also a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan.

Maybe the dust will settle once the couple observes their 54th wedding anniversary on July 26 and Dale's 83rd birthday on Aug. 7. And with the kids out of the nest, the Fords dote on two beloved ragdoll cats, Albert and Andy.

  • If you get into your paper early enough this morning, there's still time to participate in the seventh annual Sean Vandenberg Memorial Ride and barbecue today. The event is in memory of Sean Vandenberg, who died of cancer in 2001, said his mother and organizer Peggie Vandenberg.

Funds raised help provide wishes for seriously ill and seriously injured children in the Walla Walla Valley through Children's Wishes and Dreams. Proceeds also provide for an annual scholarship to a Touchet High School graduate. Sean Vandenberg loved motorcycles and received one as a "wish" from a local wish-granting organization in 1993. Amanda Vandenberg, Sean's sister, will ride his bike during the event.

Ride registration is from 9-10 a.m., when the first bikes will leave on a poker run. It is open to motorcycles and any other street-legal mode of transportation. Each poker hand is $5 with no limit to the number of hands played.

The ride starts and ends at the Touchet School park and is approximately 85 miles through back roads of Touchet, Milton-Freewater and the foothills of Walla Walla.

The relaxed route will culminate with a barbecue for the whole family. The cost is $10 for all you can eat; or $5 for children 12 and under.

DJ Lotek will provide music and there will also be raffles and prize drawings.

For more information, to make donations or directions, e-mail or call 509-394-0330 or 520-5396.

  • Host families, liasons and American Field Service volunteers toasted and touted exchange students as "Here Comes the Sun" played, said Darcy Dauble.

The backyard potluck occasion marked the end of a nearly 11-month stay for AFS exchange students and was held at the home of Linnea and Robert Keatts.

The students stayed with host families in Waitsburg, Dayton and Walla Walla.

Hon Ching ‘Edmond' Lai of Hong Kong spoke of life in a small town and tormenting his host ‘brothers' as highlights for him. The Beasley family in Waitsburg hosted Edmund.

Dimunitive Nur ‘Isna' Masyithoh of Indonesia was presented with the BuziBee award for her involvement in activities at Walla Walla High School. She stayed with Laura Reiter and will not be able to ‘pack' the family cat.

Espen Myrstad of Norway received a stuffed toy dolphin for his enthusiasm and ‘diving' into any and all possibilities - including a recent trip with friends to a concert at George at the Gorge. The Keatts enjoyed Espen for the year and will meet his family soon when they come to visit.

Arnaud Darfeuil of France thanked his host family, Elisa and Kevin Pogue of Walla Wallam for their support this last year.

Waritta ‘Salma' Charoenchit of Thailand spoke of good memories she would be ‘packing' for her return. Gene and Cassie Spangrude hosted Salma.

Hazem Said Zater of Egypt appreciated the healthy, good food host ‘mom' Rhonda Olson prepared for him. He didn't gain 20 pounds as reported by exchange students he had talked to before coming. Kristina Sjursen Loso, also of Norway, was away on a last family trip with her hosts, Glenn and Aileen Warren of Dayton.

The students were scheduled to return home the last week in June. A new group will arrive the second week of August when a welcoming potluck is held.

Host families remarked on how fast the year goes and the changes they see in their new ‘sons' and ‘daughters.' At the end of the year, the students are confident, at ease with themselves and each other, joking in English as younger siblings vie for their attention.

Information sessions for those interested in becoming host families are held in the fall. Applications by potential host families are usually submitted in January/February for the following August to June time period. Training sessions are held for families and an AFS liason selected for additional support. Contact Linnea, current home placement specialist for the Valley Chapter, at 509-525-0049 for further information about either hosting or volunteering with AFS.

  • The record 4,496 men and women recognized as graduates from Oregon State University in OSU's 141st commencement ceremony June 12 in Reser Stadium included several area residents: Jordan M. Alford, Athena, a bachelor's in human development and family sciences; Cassandra A. Sept, Walla Walla, bachelor's business administration. From Milton-Freewater: Jany E. Alcala, bachelor's, psychology; Lyndsey B. Croghan, bachelor's, cum laude, civil engineering; Emily M. Holden, bachelor's, cum laude, general agriculture; Briana L. Kelly, bachelor's in biology; Joshua M. Paine, bachelor's, magna cum laude, radiation health physics; and Weston, Celie L. Faircloth, bachelor's, human development and family sciences.
  • KUJ Radio talk show host Jim Bock regaled Milton-Freewater Rotary Club members with tales from his 30 years in radio. He also talked about work he's done at Little Theatre of Walla Walla and onstage in Los Angeles and Londan during the Rotary meeting June 22.

He shared anecdotes about topics that came up on his talk show programs that caught him a bit unprepared.

Jim came to attention during an interview with Walla Wallan Scotty Cummins, a lifelong supporter of sporting events and programs, and sporting goods business owner; when he casually mentioned playing in a baseball game against Satchel Paige. Scotty got a hit off Satchel Paige when Scotty played for the old Walla Walla Bears.

In an interview with Eugene Fletcher, Jim discovered he was a crew member aboard a World War II B-17 that flew many missions over Germany.

His story is reminiscent of the movie plot of the "Memphis Belle," which flew 30 of those missions.

Rotarian Robby Robbins noted that Jim's "was a very interesting presentation that left us all smiling and thinking about some of the people we know, or have known, who have surprised us with similar stories and comments."

And during the June 29 Rotary meeting, members met Adam Kipp, a third-year medical student at Oregon Health Sciences University. He's in Milton-Freewater for four weeks of rural experience, noted member Robby Robbins.

  • Jacob Crawford and Grayleen M. Duffy, both of Walla Walla, received scholarships of $1,000 each from Providence St. Mary Service League.

Students who plan to enter the field of medicine are eligible for the awards. Jacob plans to become a doctor of medicine. The 2010 Walla Walla High School graduate plans to enter Boise State University this fall.

Grayleen plans to enroll in the nursing program at Walla Walla Community College.

  • Thirty-nine students made Weston-McEwen High School's second semester honor roll.

Seniors: Laina Fairchild, Emery Gentry, Jennifer Pace, Clifford Smith, Gina Steeprow, 4.0 gpas, and Melissa Frank, Jessica Kirksey, Jessica Meadows, Presley Pahl and Karl Shaw.

Juniors: Renee Baumann, Tiffany Cain, Leanne Harnden, Danielle Hinchliff, Daniel Winn, 4.0 gpas, and Cole Albee, Jimmy Brower, Sam Denton, Kendra Durfee, Drew Greenwalt, Amanda Kuehn, Pierson Pahl, Miles Thul, Rachel Wernsing and Taylor Zerba.

Sophomore: Shyanne Albee, 4.0 gpa, and James Baker, Morgan Entze, Haley Freske, Karly Graves, Rilei Hill, Tessa Ortmann and Paula Thompson.

Freshmen: Joe Baumann, Alex Gilsdorf, Josh Lambert, Maddie Taylor, 4.0 gpas, and Angelica Mironov and Wes Surber.


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