ENNIS, Texas — Ted Hunsberger is a Nebraska native who spent time as an airplane mechanic in Seattle and a private pilot and hot air balloon pilot in Arizona.
So, landing at a senior living community in Grapevine as a resident a year and a half ago wasn't admittedly the highlight of his life.
But on Monday, it was pretty darn close.
"Every meal is first class, literally," Hunsberger said while seated in the dining hall of Solstice Senior Living at Grapevine. He moved here to be closer to his daughter in Keller. "The food is 100 percent quality all the time," he said.
But his other favorite topic here is skydiving. It's something he's done more than 850 times.
"I refuse to get old gracefully," he told me.
But at 77 years old, it's a graceful airplane exit he hasn't been able to make in some 20 years. And after he moved into Solstice he started talking about it again, even if some people thought he was a bit crazy.
"I tell them to get over it," he said to people who might question the logic of a septuagenarian jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. "You can do it. All you have to do is step out of the airplane and gravity takes care of the rest," he joked.
"And then the opportunity came up and I go, why not? Do it again!" he said.
His wish is the first granted by a new program at Solstice called "Livin' the Dream."
"I hope that it brings him a lot of joy and I hope that it inspires the other residents to living the dream....to living out their dream," said Shelley De Leon, the vibrant life director of activities for Solstice Senior Living in Grapevine.
"He said he can't believe so many people are paying that much attention to him and making such a big deal about this for him," she said.
So, with a half dozen other residents, he boarded the Solstice bus and they made the 49-mile trip to Dallas Tandem Skydiving in Ennis. With help from the skydiving team at the Ennis Airport, he stepped into his parachute harness just like he'd done 850 times before.
"OK, last chance to back out Ted," I asked him.
"Nope. We're gonna absolutely do it and you're gonna watch me go do it," he said.
"Is there anything you want to say before we get in that tiny plane," his tandem skydiving partner asked him.
"Nope," Ted answered.
"Let's get it right," his instructor said.
"Boom," Ted replied.
Next, the single engine plane made the 20-minute climb to a jump altitude of 10,500 feet. And, with no hesitation, Ted and his instructor took to the air, free-falling for 30 seconds, and then once the shoot opened, gliding through a clear 90-degree Texas sky for a full five minutes.
The instructor let Ted take control of the canopy for some of that descent.
His landing on a mostly wind-free day was graceful.
And once he removed his goggles, tears flowed.
"Why did it mean so much to you? What's making you cry," I asked him.
"Just everything," he said. "It brings back a lot of memories and it just makes me happy. I mean really, really, really happy."
And that, after all, is the goal of all this. Oh, and the applause from his skydiving groupies who made the trip to cheer him on, that was pretty nice too.