For eight special residents of The Oaks Gracious Retirement Living Community, it was not an ordinary Friday. The residents, all in their 80s and 90s, were gearing up for an adventure on the brisk fall morning. Each were about to take off on a breathtaking ride over Georgetown, Texas in a vintage World War II era biplane.
Excited, nervous chatter occupied the fliers waiting for their turn. Conversations often turned toward their wartime experiences, as the group consisted of many veterans and veteran spouses. This event, put on by the non-profit organization Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, was held in honor of their service with the intent of making them feel like heroes again, even if it was just for a day.
Surrounded by his wife, two of his five children and many of his grandchildren and great grandchildren, the first flight of the day went to Harold Graves, a 90-year-old retired pastor and Navy veteran. Graves opened the day’s event with a prayer dedicated to the nation’s veterans.
The second flier was Michael DeMatteis, a 92-year-old World War II veteran and retired machinist. DeMatteis helped build bridges in France, Belgium and Germany during the war. He even saw the liberation of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic).
The rides in the iconic war plane also have special nostalgia for these World War II veterans. The Stearman biplane used for the flights was the same kind of plane used to train airmen in the war. Darryl Fisher, founder of Ageless Aviation and pilot for the day, explains, “Sometimes it opens them up and brings out stories they had never spoken about. The legacy of this generation is precious, we need to preserve these stories.”
Fisher continues, “The World War II generation is humble, but they changed the course of history. This is our treat to them, a small token of thanks for shaping our nation. This generation has done so much.”
Hosted on the eve of Veterans Day, this event was a particularly special one for Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation. They were celebrating their 3,000th Dream Flight. For an organization 100 percent volunteer driven, this is an impressive feat.
Consisting of a team of volunteer pilots flying a squadron of three vintage war planes, they rely entirely on donations. These donations come in the form of free lodging, meals and hangar space, as well as generous monetary gifts. Sport Clips Haircuts, whose founder, Gordon Logan, is a former U.S. Air Force pilot, is a corporate sponsor of the worthy cause.
Fisher says, “So much of that generation did what they could to help the war efforts, any way they could, with whatever they had. This principle of stewardship and culture of service is an inspiration for this organization.”
Fusing their two great passions, helping seniors and aviation, the Fisher family founded Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation in 2011. Their family, four generations of pilots, decided to use their abilities to accomplish a mission: Give back to those who have given. One plane ride at a time, they are helping the greatest generation turn back the clock and feel young again for even a short time.
Fisher says, “These flights help change their perspective about their own abilities and realize they can do more than they thought. It is an amazing feeling to be able to do something for someone and see immediate results.”
Avis Riffel, activities coordinator for The Oaks Gracious Retirement Living, would agree, “Activities like this give them some excitement, which keeps them excited about life. That is an important element in maintaining a good quality of life at this age.”
Ageless Aviation is excited about the 3,000 flights it has been able to offer so far. The organization looks forward to being able to continue to offer many more and honor their mission of giving back to those who have given. Fisher says, “We are paid in satisfaction, and sometimes I feel we are overpaid.”
To learn more about Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, click here.