Group flies vets over Stevens Point in historic plane

Written by: Nathan Vine, Stevens Point Journal Media


STEVENS POINT — While being helped out of a Boeing Stearman biplane Tuesday morning, 98-year-old Bill Geiger joked that he had taken the wheel during his 20-minute flight over the Stevens Point area, and even climbed out onto one of the wings to get a better view of things.
Geiger of Stevens Point was among a group of veterans who took flights out of the Stevens Point Municipal Airport on Tuesday courtesy of the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring seniors and veterans, primarily those who live in long-term care communities.
Paul Bodenhamer, executive director of the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, said the organization, which started in 2011, was making its third trip to Stevens Point after connecting with the Emeritus at Oakridge senior living community in Stevens Point. The foundation provided 275 flights throughout the United States last year.
On Tuesday, the foundation got 13 seniors up in the biplane — the same aircraft used to train many military aviators in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Darryl Fisher, president of the foundation, piloted the flights.
Several residents from Oakridge and the surrounding community, along with local officials including Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson, state Rep. Katrina Shankland and state Sen. Julie Lassa, attended the event to watch the flights. Kindergarten students from Bannach Elementary School in Stevens Point also observed and received a presentation from Bodenhamer about the plane and World War II.
“It’s a wonderful experience, and something I’ll never forget,” said Geiger, a World War II Army veteran who also took a flight last year.
Oakridge Executive Director Marcia McDonald said staff members typically pick participants for the excursions, focusing on people who haven’t participated before. She said the facility ripples with excitement as flight day draws near and even Bodenhamer, who has been with the foundation since its inception, said he gets a thrill with every trip.
“You see people who didn’t think they would have an opportunity to do something like this again in their lives, and that’s always exciting,” Bodenhamer.
Oakridge resident Norman Wallner, 90, got to take his first plane ride with the foundation Tuesday. A veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps, Wallner said he wasn’t nervous at all to get into the Boeing Stearman.
“It’s a chance to get up in the sky and take a look around,” Wallner said.