Decades ago, Lydia Gross had the opportunity to fly an airplane. She always refused.
âI have always regretted this decision,â Gross said.
In June, Gross, at age 99, had his chance again.
Gross, a resident of Poplar Estates assisted living in Columbia, was able to fly a plane with Wingman Flight Academy in Dickson. Her flight lesson was part of a fundraising campaign organized by the staff of Poplar Estates.
âIt was wonderful. It was exciting,â Gross said.
Gross’s son Dave said his mother had been talking about stealing for years.
âMy mom always told us that she was going to learn to fly to make her sons jealous. Well, today it’s happening and I couldn’t be happier,â said Dave.
Gross’s Aviation Opportunity began with the creation of an online GoFundMe campaign by Poplar Estates Media Director Kevin Sage. He created a music video and campaign to help fill residents’ bucket lists.
Sage said the idea came to him during the COVID-19 pandemic.
âWe were all confined together. I was talking to the residents about what they had always wanted to do but never had the chance, and they started dreaming again and came up with some amazing ideas,â Sage said. “I knew we just had to find a way to make it happen.
Sage wrote a song and produced a pop music video featuring the âcastâ of Poplar Estates to rally support. He then contacted Toby Rice, owner of the Wingman Flight Academy and also the chief instructor. Sage wanted to pay for Gross’s instruction theft with the proceeds of the fundraiser.
âI said payment won’t be necessary and we’ll donate the flight,â Rice said.
Rice allowed Gross to take the yoke of the Cessna 172 for nearly 30 minutes on a one-hour round-trip flight from Dickson to downtown Nashville.
âLydia is in the evening of her life, and we thought a sunset flight over downtown Nashville would be a special first flight for her,â Rice said.
Gross said she “liked the lights over Nashville” and was “surprised at how smooth the steering (of the plane) was.”
The inspiration for his bucket list lens came from Gross’s years of working for Jungle Aviation and Radio Service in the late 1980s as a desk job. Pilots regularly offered flight instruction to Gross during his three years of intermittent work at JAARS, a non-profit organization that flies to remote parts of the world to translate and deliver Bibles.
As she did not have a plane and thought she probably never would, declined these teaching opportunities while at JAARS.
“I can’t believe this is my job”
Sage was also on the flight with Gross and Rice. He described the day as a “privilege to see someone do something they’ve always dreamed of doing”.
âI had no idea it was going to be as emotional as it was,â Sage said. “I can’t believe this is my job.”
Sage was recently on another bucket list adventure with Poplar Estates resident Connie Mason, 85. Her desire was to zipline and Sage accompanied her to Adventureworks in Nashville.
He said as funds arrive – and prioritizing the person’s age and health – residents will be given the bucket list items, which range from a dinner at a meeting with Dolly Parton.
Sage thinks this is the first of many wishes to be granted. Donations are collected through their GoFundMe campaign page where the music video can also be viewed.
‘Never too old’
Dave and three other Gross residents were on hand to offer support for his first flight.
Members of the Gross family from across the country followed the first flight event online.
After the flight, Gross said she would return to the cockpit “right away”.
âI’m just glad I got the opportunity,â Gross said. “You are never too old to do anything.”