Octogenarian floats in rare air

Clint Riese
Staff Writer

Her children watched as she boarded the plane. Her grandchildren watched. Her great-grandchildren watched. They all waved.

Minutes later, Mary Pat Sullivan jumped out of the plane.

Indeed, the octogenarian from Forest Lake went skydiving on Sunday, Aug. 12, an adventure which failed to appeal to the 30 or so family members and friends of Sullivan who cheered her on that day at Skydive Forest Lake.

“My grandkids say, ‘Grandma, I can’t believe you did that,’” she says. “Yeah, grandma went a little crazy.”

The Way Up

Truth be told, it was not the first such flight of fancy for the mother of three, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of six. She flew with her cousin, a cropduster, in the late 1930s.

After several decades at a lower altitude, Sullivan a few years ago briefly piloted a sea plane and rode along as it made a water landing on Lake Vermilion.

So when Sullivan and her canine companion, Max, a rescue dog from Joplin, MO, happened upon skydivers while walking near their home on Fenston Avenue, it made sense for her curiosity to be piqued.

When Sullivan witnessed a friend take the dive at the new business located at the Daniel DePonti Airport, her mind was made up.

“I decided right then and there, ‘I’m doing it,’” she says.

Her jump date of August 12 happened to work for her family, including one contingent that was visiting from China. The family of Sullivan’s daughter Kelly (Bill) Lamwers of Wyoming also turned out for the occasion.

Sullivan knew her family would be at the airport but was surprised by the turnout of friends. As the hour neared, she worried whether there would be enough food at the dinner she planned to host upon her safe arrival on the ground.

Cloudy skies that morning also gave her reason for pause.

“The weather was not that great,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I think I’ll throw a hissy fit if can’t do it today.’”

Then there was the fact that Sullivan was preparing to take on a challenge that would force her to overcome a significant fear.

“I get three rings up on a ladder and I get a nosebleed,” she says. “I am terrified of heights.”

The Way Down

While being prepped for the dive, Sullivan overheard a mother use her as motivation for a boy who was trying to find his courage.

“Look over there,” the lady said, pointing. “And you’re not going?”

The child ended up jumping, and so did the 80-year-old. After the intimidating initial leap, it’s all gravy, Sullivan found.

“The first step out of the plane, that was the scary one, but what you can see…Just a magnificent view,” she says.

The staff’s gentle touch made Sullivan comfortable and her tandem partner “took the brunt of everything.”

Sullivan, who moved to Forest Lake from Florida three years ago, thought the sky had cleared for her jump. Once down, though, she realized that she had noticed the sunshine from above the clouds.

Her children had even planned for the extra guests, so there was plenty of chicken and potato salad for all at dinner.

Sullivan can check skydiving off her bucket list, but she may not be done with the hobby. She’s interested in going again now that she knows what to expect.

Her schedule might book up fast, though, because she also wants to ride in a hot air balloon and a helicopter.

“If I can go in a cropduster, I can go in anything,” she says.