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91-year-old takes "thrilling" tandem skydive

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 5:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 6:00 p.m. CDT
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Skydive instructor Paul Piccolo goes through pre-jump instructions with Dorothy Morris before the jump. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Dorothy Morris and her tandem skydiving instructor Paul Piccolo, navigate to the ground on Aug. 24. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Paul Piccolo, chief instructor at the Chicagoland Skydiving Center, checks his altimeter as he tandem jumps with Dorothy Morris, 91, Mt. Morris on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Michael Squires
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Carolyn White, Mt. Morris, holds a sign she and her daughter, Doreen (standing) made in honor of Dorothy Morris' skydive on Aug. 24. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Dorothy Morris' brother, Frank Stomberg, gives his sister a hug prior to her skydiving on Aug. 24. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Family and friends of Dorothy Morris watch her descent. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Dorothy Morris waves to her family and friends after boarding the plane en route to her first tandem skydiving jump. Photo by Earleen Hinton
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Dorothy sits with her diving instructor Paul Piccolo while Michael Squires a videographer for the Chicagoland Skydiving Center does an interview. Also pictured at right is Dorothy's niece Kathy Quacklinbush. Photo by Earleen Hinton

It’s OK to scream. That was just one tip Dorothy Morris received on Sunday before jumping out of a plane over Rochelle at 14,000 feet.

Turns out the 91-year-old great grandmother didn’t need it anyway.

“I forgot to scream. I was too busy looking around. I think I wanted to, but it was so thrilling I forgot,” the Mt. Morris resident said shortly after landing with her tandem skydiving instructor Paul Piccolo.

Surrounded by nearly 50 family members and friends, Morris jumped with Piccolo at the Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.

She decided to try skydiving after hearing her niece, Kathy Qualkinbush, DeKalb, talk about how much she enjoyed her “jumps”.

“She kept bringing it up and finally I said ‘Ok, I will arrange it’,” said Qualkinbush who has made hundred of jumps. “Initially, I was surprised, but knowing her it made sense. I mean, she’s on Facebook…I’m sure she’ll put this on too.”

This was not the first visit for Morris to the skydiving center. She had watched other skydivers jump while eating at the Flight Deck Bar & Grill, located adjacent to the landing area.

“I just love watching them jump,” she said. “We’ve come over for the evening meals so I’ve seen them over and over. I told Kathy I think I could do that.”

After signing the necessary pre-form jumps at the registration desk, Morris made her way into a nearby room where she watched a video about her upcoming experience.

One of the tips encouraged screaming because “it actually helps” combat the anxiety. Another urged jumpers to let their jumping partner know if they felt nauseated so the professional could “take evasive action” and avoid any splash back.

When asked if she was afraid of heights Morris smiled and responded, “Evidently not. I’ve got a lot of encouragement and support from everyone who knew I was doing this. Most of them said they wouldn’t do it, but I told them they should do it when they are 91.

“I’ve got one younger brother, but then everybody’s younger than me. I’m excited and a little nervous, but I’m ready to go,” she said bursting into a hearty laugh.

Her next step was heading to the large hangar where she was fitted into her harness under the skillful direction of Piccolo. “You are doing great,” he said while going over jump details and answering questions from her extended family.

Morris’ granddaughter Emily Severson, from Elgin, held a sign that said “Flying Granny”. Morris had posed earlier with Emily and her daughter Lela Wissing (Emily’s mom) and Emily’s two-month-old daughter Bekka, for a fourth-generation photo.

Dorothy and her niece Kathy, who rode along in the plane’s cockpit for support, where the first of a dozen or so people to board the plane that sported “Perfectly Good Airplane” on its side. Morris waved to her family and friends from the airplane door.

As the plane climbed along with temperatures nearing the 90s, Morris’ younger brother and last remaining sibling, Frank Stomberg, 77, Rockford, watched. He too, was not surprised by his sister’s decision to try skydiving.

“There’s not much I can say. She has a mind of her own. If our mother Lela Mae was here today she’d say ‘wait for me’. Dorothy is cut from the same cloth,” he said.

Lela May lived to be 105, another family member pointed out.

Stomberg said his only real concern was whether or not his sister was going to try and top this next year when she turns 92 in January.

“She read about the bucket list and I don’t know if this is it or not,” he said. “If not, it scares me on what may be next. There were 9 of us growing up and now there’s only 2 left.”

Most of the skydivers riding in the plane with Morris exited at 9,000 feet. The plane then circled again and at 14,000 feet Michael Squires, a videographer and instructor who was filming Morris’ feat, exited the plane closely followed by Morris and Piccolo, with a bright teal parachute behind them.

Morris’ “entourage” watched from the viewing tent as their matriarch made soft spirals in the blue sky on a sunny, humid day. Carolyn and Doreen White, two of Dorothy’s Mt. Morris buddies, held a sign that read: “It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s Dorothy!”.

Cheers could be heard as the pair landed.

“When I come in for a landing I really show them how to do it,” Morris said while sitting in the grass.

“Now you know why the birds sing!,” exclaimed another skydiver, who landed after Morris.

“It was ice cold and then suddenly warm,” Morris said as she prepared to meet her entourage.

“I made it Frank,” she said before giving her brother a big hug.

“What’s next, deep sea diving?,” asked another friend.

“No, nothing with water,” Morris shot back.

After getting a large ice water, Morris reflected on her first skydive.

“It was quite different than I expected, but in a good way. I didn’t expect it to be that thrilling. It’s so nice everyone came out today…such an entourage. I love being with all these people,” she said.

Not the oldest

Dorothy Morris isn’t the oldest person to skydive at the Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle.

Douglas Smith, CEO and president of the company, said the center has had a 99-year-old skydive.

“He started skydiving at 90 and wanted to jump every year on his birthday and he made it to 99,” Smith said. “He didn’t make 100 because he died, but not from skydiving.”

Smith said weekends are the busiest times for the center.

“We have a hundred people today,” he said on Sunday. “You really need reservations if you want to jump on a weekend.”

The skydiving season is seven days a week, from April 1 to mid-November, and is always dependent on weather.

Jumpers can choose to skydive from three heights—9,000 feet, 14,000 feet, and 18,000 feet. Tandem skydiving prices from 14,000 feet are around $200 with additional costs for photos and/or video.

For more information and detailed pricing, visit http://www.skydivecsc.com.

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