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The 93rd jump

Meet Dee Wittke, a 75-year-old who volunteers at the Molalla Adult Center almost every day. Except for last Saturday, when she went skydiving for the 93rd time.


Dee Wittke flipped through the pages of a blue logbook with worn edges. On the cover, in faded gold lettering, is printed “The Sky Diver.” Inside, dates and locations are cleanly written in ink. Line by line, 92 skydiving jumps are logged in the book. Next to each one is a short note, a sentence describing what happened.by: CORY MIMMS - Dee Wittke, left, with Katie Dunford at Skydive Oregon.

The first time Wittke jumped was on Aug. 3, 1963. It was the month before she turned 25, and she was at Elsinore Lake in California, where she went on to do most of her skydiving.

The sensation of falling hooked her early. The notes for her first trip, in part, read: “Best first jump.”

She went skydiving 65 more times before the end of 1963. Every one is logged in the book, with bits of information next to them. The note for her unlucky 13th jump says she broke her tooth. When her parachute released, her altimeter hit her in the face.

The last 27 entries in the book were logged between March 3, 1964, and July 10, 1965. The notes for the last entry read: “First opening shock ever. It hurt.”

She has slides of many of the jumps. Held up to the light, they show small snapshots of her life spent tumbling through the air. A man named Darty Cronin, who she met during a skydiving training class, is in some of them.

Much like the notes Wittke took on each time she went skydiving, she also has taken notes on much of her life.

She writes of Darty: “Darty and I were close friends but he wanted more than that, he wanted to marry me … He bought beautiful parachutes for both of us.”

In her early 20s, Wittke was a stewardess. She flew to major travel hubs around the world.

Of Lagos, Nigeria, she wrote: “There was a war going on in Lagos. Soldiers with guns were everywhere. We stayed in the hotel and didn’t leave.”

Of Johannesburg, South Africa: “It looked just like California with sage brush and palm trees.”

Rome, Italy: “I went to dinner and dancing with the captain of the airplane.”

Tehran, Iran: “From the hotel, we could see a movie theatre, which was packed with men. Some of them were gay men. Women had to stay home.”

Bangkok, Thailand: “We went to the rivers and the people were selling groceries off the boats.”

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in her notes Saigon: “I bought a beautiful silk blue dress and black pants. The dress had a slit at the waist.”

Hong Kong, China, in her notes a British territory: “I went to the riverfront and saw many boats, which were people’s homes.”

Japan, Philippines, Guam, Indian—Wittke spent a long time flying. Perhaps there’s a correlation between her career as a stewardess and her desire to jump out of airplanes.

When Wittke was 28 she changed careers. She went to nursing school in Los Angeles. Just six weeks before she graduated, she married Gary McClure, whom she had met while on a ski trip.

They were married at the Los Angeles City Hall. She had only known him for three weeks. “The most important thing,” Wittke wrote, “he was funny and made me laugh.”

They kept the marriage a secret until they held a traditional wedding for family and friends.

Following her formal wedding, she began working as a coronary intensive care nurse at the Hermosa Beach Hospital. She worked there for a year, and during that time she began to wonder if she’d jumped into marriage too quickly.

A “very handsome and likeable” Hermosa Beach firefighter came to visit his mother, who was under Wittke’s care. “I would have liked to have gotten to know him better,” Wittke said in her notes. “Oh well, too late!”

Wittke lived in an apartment in Hermosa Beach with her husband. They bought a sailboat and named it Maeve. They sailed to Catalina Island. They sailed to Santa Barbara.

Eventually Wittke’s doubts about her marriage grew too strong to ignore. She and McClure divorced.

Twenty-three years ago, Wittke moved to Molalla. A decade later she had a stroke.

While getting dressed, she fell to the floor. Her right side was paralyzed. After some time spent trying to get up, feeling returned to her right half.

The stroke took Wittke’s speech. For three years following it, she couldn’t say a thing.

Now, twelve years later, she still has some trouble with words. “But I’m doing better all the time,” she said.

In a support group for people suffering from aphasia, Wittke met Katie Dunford. Dunford, who is about to turn 26, helps to facilitate the group. The two of them decided to go skydiving together.

For Dunford, it would be her first time. For Wittke, her 93rd. “No, I’m not nervous at all,” Wittke said preflight. Dunford admitted she was a bit.

They arrived at Skydive Oregon at 10 a.m. Morning mist settled on the planes near the runway. A few of Wittke’s friends came to support them.

Wittke had never been on a tandem jump before, but the skydiving company required her to this time. “Jumping is completely different now,” she said.

She signed her waivers and took the training class. Then she and Dunford waited.

The cloud cover broke, the mist dried, and around 2 p.m. Wittke and Dunford headed into the air.

Though the regulations have changed since 1965, the experience of falling, of tumbling flight, hasn’t.

Dunford was happy with her first experience. “It was fantastic,” she said, describing the sensation of falling more like floating. Dunford was hooked by the feeling, just as Wittke was when she was in her 20s.

Wittke was thrilled to jump again. “It was a wonderful time,” she said.

And so, 48 years, two months and five days after Wittke’s 92nd jump, she logged the 93rd into her little book. In the notes section she simply wrote: “Awesome! Great jump.”

She plans to go again. In fact, she’s shooting for an even 100 jumps.



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