Just shy of 100, he took the leap of his life

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY THÉODEN JANES [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com did

Carolyn Hart was a lit­tle hes­i­tant to tell her fa­ther that she was plan­ning to jump out of a per­fectly good air­plane 10,000 feet above cen­tral North Carolina.

So she waited un­til the night be­fore to call him, then held her breath.

He re­acted, of course, ex­actly the way she’d feared:

“Oh­h­h­hhh, do you think it’s too late for me to get to be able to join you?” Jack Hart asked.

Carolyn had re­hearsed her re­sponse: “Yeah, sorry, Dad — they’re booked up. I don’t think they would let you jump any­way.”

But the next morn­ing, when the folks at Sky­dive Cen­tral North Carolina called to say the weather in Maiden looked a bit too cloudy for a good jump and apol­o­gized and asked to sched­ule a makeup date, Carolyn Hart knew. She wasn’t go­ing to be able to wig­gle her way out of this one. And he wasn’t go­ing to drop it.

She knew her fa­ther — who turns 100 years old on Aug. 13 — was go­ing to do ev­ery­thing he could to make sure that when Carolyn fi­nally go up in that lit­tle prop plane, he’d be sar­dined into the seat next to her, ready to go sky­div­ing for the first time in his life.


As you can prob­a­bly in­fer, Jack Hart is not your typ­i­cal



That’s clear, when you text him ask­ing him if he’s free to talk, and he re­sponds that he can do so af­ter his swim class, and punc­tu­ates the re­ply with a smi­ley face emoji with its tongue stick­ing out.

It’s clear when you meet him in­side the lobby at The Pines at David­son re­tire­ment com­mu­nity, when he leaps from his chair to greet you, locks your hand in a pow­er­ful grip, shows you the step counter on his iPhone and you no­tice that he’s al­ready got­ten in 1,800-plus steps that day – and it’s only lunchtime.

And it’s clear when he gets to the el­e­va­tor to take you up to his sec­ond-floor apart­ment, veers to­ward a door on the left and says, “You don’t mind if we take the stairs, do you?”

In­side that apart­ment, Hart’s bed­room is dec­o­rated prac­ti­cally floor to ceil­ing with wa­ter­color paint­ings he’s done since tak­ing up the hobby in 2012. Most are ren­der­ings of places he’s trav­eled to: Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, the San Juan Is­lands, the Panama Canal, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Ma­hal (which he says he vis­ited sev­eral times while serv­ing in In­dia as a crypt­an­a­lyst for the Army’s Sig­nal In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice from 1944 to 1946), and a pond in his home­town of Spokane, Wash., to which he used to hitch rides in a friend’s Model T Ford so he could ice-skate in the win­ters.

A gi­ant map of the world hangs in one cor­ner, dot­ted with hun­dreds of col­ored pins mark­ing places he’s vis­ited in roughly 200 coun­tries across five con­ti­nents — many with his wife of 62 years, Sara, who died in 2006.

Next to it is a plaque that rec­og­nizes him for his vol­un­teer work: In 2012, at age 94, he was fin­ish­ing up his fi­nal year of ser­vice with Our Towns Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity in Cor­nelius. Over the course of the pre­vi­ous seven, he’d logged more than 3,500 vol­un­teer hours, help­ing with fundrais­ing, fix­ing fur­ni­ture and fans at Habi­tat Re­Stores, and re­peat­edly serv­ing as the old­est vol­un­teer (by far) on Habi­tat trips to Gu­atemala to build block houses and smoke­less stoves for needy fam­i­lies.

He ges­tures to a 2003 Mazda SUV in the park­ing lot out­side his win­dow and says, “That’s mine. I drive ev­ery day. I go to the store, I go to Michael’s up in Mooresvill­e to buy this pa­per (for wa­ter­color paint­ings). It’s kind of ex­pen­sive, to tell you the truth, but like my daugh­ter says, ‘What else are you gonna spend your money on?’”

Then he brings out the cer­tifi­cate he re­ceived on June 9 for his suc­cess­ful sky­div­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and beams as he holds it up.

“It was one of the high­lights of my life,” Hart says. “A won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. I do rec­om­mend it — un­less you’re infirm in some way.”


When Carolyn Hart called her dad to say her jump was off due to over­cast skies, he was thrilled. “You’re gonna resched­ule, right?” he asked.

“Yeah­hhh,” Carolyn replied, cau­tiously.

“Well, then I want to do it, too,” Jack an­nounced. “Ask them if I can do it, too.”

Carolyn tried to make sure he was sure. “What if some­thing goes wrong? You know, peo­ple do die sky­div­ing. You could break a leg, break a hip, break your back, and that could be the end.”

Jack’s re­sponse: “Hey, what a way to go!”

When she re­lented, and called to ask the man­ager at the sky­div­ing place if her dad could come too, she re­calls, “He said, ‘Sure, let me get his birth­date.’ And I said, ‘Au­gust 13th, 1918.’ He said, ‘Nine­teen-

She ex­plained what kind of shape Jack was in, that he swims three times a week, walks ev­ery day, drives, paints, gets around pretty well for a guy who’s 80. Re­ally well for a guy who’s 90. Ex­traor­di­nar­ily well for a guy who’s al­most 100.

Then she sent the own­ers a video of her fa­ther get­ting up from a seated po­si­tion, walk­ing, lift­ing his knees into a march, sit­ting back down, then rais­ing his knees off the ground to demon­strate the strength in his quads and ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles.

And what­ever fears they may have had were al­layed when Carolyn and Jack Hart ar­rived at the air­field that Satur­day morn­ing.

“When I saw him get out of his ve­hi­cle,” says Kelvin Wilk­er­son, coowner of Sky­dive Cen­tral North Carolina, “just the way he got out of it and walked up to us, see­ing his phys­i­cal mo­bil­ity, I could tell then that we were good, that I wouldn’t have any is­sues tak­ing him. ... I mean, he’s in bet­ter shape than some 20-year-olds I’ve taken sky­div­ing.”

The only trou­ble Jack had dur­ing the jump? His foot got caught as they were about to exit the plane, and when he wrenched it loose, his left foot came out of his gray size-101⁄ ten­nis shoe — send­ing the sneaker tum­bling out of the door, never to be found again.

Then, with Wilk­er­son strapped to his back and Carolyn not far be­hind him, Jack Hart went fall­ing through the air at 120 miles per hour for about 35 sec­onds, un­til Wilk­er­son’s parachute de­ployed. They drifted the re­main­ing 5,000 feet back to the ground, which Hart de­scribed as mak­ing him feel like he was “float­ing on a puffy cloud.”

Right be­fore they touched back down on the ground, Wilk­er­son in­structed Hart to lift his legs up, and Hart did, stick­ing the land­ing so to speak. Once they were un­hitched from each other, they shared a hug.

“I want you to come back next year,” Wilk­er­son told him, “and do it again with me when you’re 100.”


It’s not out of the realm of pos­si­bil­ity.

Sure, he hasn’t been with­out health prob­lems: About 61⁄ years ago, Hart got a yeast in­fec­tion in his esoph­a­gus that led to as­pi­ra­tion pneu­mo­nia, and he was on a feed­ing tube for months un­til he re­learned to swal­low with the help of a speech ther­a­pist; he now can eat any­thing he wants. Then, a cou­ple of years ago, he had a bout with blad­der can­cer; treat­ment worked, and he is in com­plete re­mis­sion.

He also had a mini- stroke about a month ago, and he some­times suf­fers from mi­graines. But other­wise — and this should be ap­par­ent by now — he’s do­ing quite well.

“I mean, he’s so healthy I wouldn’t be sur­prised if he lives more years,” Carolyn Hart says. “But he has milked that worry (that he doesn’t have much time left) a lit­tle bit. When he was turn­ing 90, he was like, ‘Am I gonna get a big party for my 90th birth­day?’ So we gave him a big party. Then at 91, ‘Well, it might be my last birth­day, are we do­ing a big party this year?’ By the time he got to be 95, I said, ‘You know what? You make it to 100 and maybe we’ll give you an­other big party.”

He ac­tu­ally got the big­gest last year, for his 99th, when Carolyn and her part­ner Sandy God­win hosted a “99 Bot­tles of Beer” bash for her dad at their Hun­tersville home. Jack’s not a beer drinker, but the theme was apro­pos — so each guest brought a bot­tle of beer as a gift, and/or made a do­na­tion to Our Towns Habi­tat’s Women Build pro­gram (more than $2,500 was col­lected). It was a big, bold, ex­pen­sive party that fea­tured more than 165 fam­ily mem­bers and friends, many bused down from his re­tire­ment com­mu­nity in David­son.

So this year, he agreed on mark­ing his 100th year in more low-key fash­ion: In Au­gust, he’ll join Carolyn, Sandy and an­other friend on a cruise ship that will take them up and down the coast of Maine. (“Yup, we’re gonna feed him a bunch of lob­ster,” Carolyn says. “And next thing you know, he’ll prob­a­bly be out in a boat fish­ing with the Maine fish­er­men.”)

“This year we’re just go­ing off qui­etly,” Jack says as he es­corts his vis­i­tor back to the lobby at The Pines. “I just keep on go­ing and hope I make it an­other year, but I don’t re­ally think about it. I just think that I’m so glad that I have had each day I’ve had.”

Then he says his good­byes with an­other firm hand­shake and heads off down the hall.

One can’t help but won­der whether he was, just maybe, show­ing off a lit­tle — so one dis­creetly fol­lows him around the cor­ner as he makes his way back to his apart­ment.

When Jack gets to the el­e­va­tor, he banks left, opens the door, and heads on up the stairs.

Sky­dive Cen­tral N.C.

Jack Hart, 99, of David­son, re­cently went sky­div­ing for the first time in his life de­spite his daugh­ter’s ef­forts to keep him grounded.

Cour­tesy of Carolyn Hart

Jack Hart with his daugh­ter Carolyn in his apart­ment at The Pines at David­son re­tire­ment com­mu­nity.

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