Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2005

Flight of the century

Miller Park site of woman’s 99th birthday balloon ride

August 11, 2005

Even at 99, Edith Oster would never be called a wilting violet.

Known for her pluck and penchant for birthday adventures, the Olathe resident visited De Soto Tuesday for her latest old-age quest -- a hot air balloon ride.

With the help of staff at RE/MAX Kaw Realty in De Soto, a RE/MAX balloon was summoned to Miller Park Tuesday night to take Edith for a ride, a longtime wish of the near-centenarian. The tethered lift joined the ranks of Edith's other birthday activities, which have included a rafting trip for her 90th birthday and a horseback ride for No. 96.

"She has a lot of spirit," said Edith's daughter-in-law Dee Oster. "She's always liked doing things -- she likes to be involved."

Edith's desire to ride in a hot air balloon was sparked when she and some friends stayed up all night to watch Jean Piccard and his wife, Jeannette, the first woman to fly to the sub-stratosphere, launch a stratosphere balloon over Dearborn, Mich., in 1934, Dee said.

When she began planning Edith's 99th birthday event, Dee thought of RE/MAX -- with more than 90 logo-emblazoned balloons, the corporation claims to have the largest fleet in the world -- and contacted Jim and Kerry Mueller at the De Soto office.

Tuesday evening, more than 30 family members and friends from Olathe's Royal Terrace Nursing Home gathered in Miller Park to watch Edith's first flight.

Before boarding the balloon, Edith made a birthday wish before blowing out a candle atop a chocolate cupcake.

"I wish that I live through this day," she laughed.

Balloon pilot Becky Petrehn, who owns and operates Balloon Ad-Ventures in the Kansas City area, began unloading the balloon just before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Once the breeze died down, Petrehn inflated the balloon, several strapping family members lifted Edith into the basket, and up she went.

After Edith's ride, which she took with her son John Oster, the balloon was available for other attendees to take turns lifting up and down in the tethered balloon. One of Edith's favorite pastimes is reciting and writing poetry, and she mentioned that her balloon ride just might become a subject.

Rachel Drake, a longtime friend, spoke to Edith's desire to explore new territory.

"She loves to see new things," Drake said. "She's pretty special. We're so proud of her."

Edith's spunk is said to have family ties. While flipping through some photos she brought to Edith's balloon birthday event, her niece Mary Gordon talked about how Edith's mother was one of the first women in her town to wear "britches," even before they were publicly acceptable.

"My mom was a character in her own right," Edith said. "We all were. We were individuals."

One friend joked that perhaps parachuting out of a plane would be Edith's activity of choice for her 100th birthday.

"Maybe not," Edith said. "I think if I get close enough to heaven I'll just walk over."

Edith said she would opt for a new activity instead of repeating the balloon ride.

"It's fun to see and do, but I don't know if I'd want to do it again," she said. "Once is enough, then you move onto something else."

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