ROCHELLE – It’s OK to scream.
That was just one tip Dorothy Morris received 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,” she said. “I was too busy looking around. I think I wanted to, but it was so thrilling I forgot.”
The Mount Morris resident described her jump shortly after landing with her tandem skydiving instructor, Paul Piccolo.
Surrounded by nearly 50 family members and friends on a hot and humid afternoon, Morris jumped with Piccolo at the Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle.
She decided to try skydiving after hearing her niece, Kathy Qualkinbush of 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 hundreds 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 Morris’ first visit to the skydiving center. She had watched other skydivers jump while eating at the Flight Deck Bar & Grill, next 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 forms, 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.
Asked whether she was afraid of heights, Morris smiled.
“Evidently not,” she said. “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 posed earlier with Emily and her daughter Lela Wissing (Emily’s mom) and Emily’s 2-month-old daughter, Bekka, for a four-generation photo.
Dorothy and her niece Kathy, who rode along in the plane’s cockpit for support, were 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, of Rockford, watched. He, too, was not surprised by his sister’s decision to try skydiving.
“She has a mind of her own,” he said. “If our mother, Lela Mae, was here today, she’d say, ‘Wait for me.’ Dorothy is cut from the same cloth.”
Lela May lived to be 105, another family member pointed out.
Stomberg said his only real concern was whether his sister was going to try to top this 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 nine of us growing up, and now there’s only two left.”
Most of the skydivers riding in the plane with Morris jumped 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, a bright teal parachute trailing behind them.
Morris’ “entourage” watched from the viewing tent as their matriarch made soft spirals in the sunny blue sky. Carolyn and Doreen White, two of Dorothy’s Mount 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, she reflected on her first skydive.
“It was quite different than I expected, but in a good way,” she said. “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.”
At 91, not the oldest to skydive
Dorothy Morris isn’t the oldest person to skydive at Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle.
Douglas Smith, CEO and president of the company, said the center had a 99-year-old skydiver.
“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 Sunday. “You really need reservations if you want to jump on a weekend.”
The skydiving season runs 7 days a week, 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.
Go to skydivecsc.com for more information.