What follows is an article many of you may have seen in the New York Times, edited it a bit for length and content.
At The Joseph Group we encourage our clients, no matter what age, to find purpose and passion in their lives. We believe retirement years provide the opportunity to do so.
We are inspired by Dorothy Hoffner and her willingness to pursue a passion, one that very few her age would consider pursuing.
Dorothy Hoffner, at 104, decided sometime in the spring that she wanted to re-capture the feeling of gliding in the air, buoyant, her wavy hair whipped by winds. So Hoffner was picked up from her home at the Brookdale Lake View senior living center in Chicago and driven to Skydive Chicago’s headquarters. There, she left her walking cane behind and boarded a small plane.
Was she aware that she would likely break the Guinness World Record for oldest person in the world to skydive? “Had no idea,” Dorothy said.
Strapped to an instructor, Hoffner jumped off the plane, soaked in mile high views of curly river streams and square patches of land, and made history as she touched down in Ottawa, Illinois, describing the downward ride as “wonderful” to a small crowd who had gathered to congratulate her.
The skydive quickly captured national attention, with reporters calling her all day. By two nights later though, Hoffner was quite bewildered that people were that interested.
“They just care about my age,” she said. Everyone seemed so impressed, she added, when really all she did was attach herself to an expert and let him do all the work.
Still, everyone wanted to know: Why had Hoffner done it? Surely there was some existential explanation, some nugget of carpe diem wisdom to impart or mission to fulfill.
Hoffner did not seem eager to impart life lessons and did not exactly give off daredevil vibes in conversation. She was born on Dec. 17, 1918, in Chicago, just after World War I ended and as an influenza pandemic was ravaging the world. She grew up poor, couldn’t afford college and worked for Illinois Bell, a telephone company that later became part of AT&T.
Hoffner said she never married or had children, which gave her more freedom. And with that freedom, came bountiful adventure: Trips to Mexico, where she and a friend would ride buses to random dusty or beachy towns; weekend trips across the country, driving in her blue Dodge Coronet; and boat rides on the Danube River in Germany.
In 2018, Hoffner met Joe Conant, 62, a nurse at the senior center. He had been a caregiver for one of Hoffner’s friends and was struck by her warmth and curiosity.
A friendship sparked. He visited her once a week, and soon, Hoffner was referring to Conant as her grandson. Reaching a century of life, Hoffner said, often means living through the deaths of those you love most. Still, new friendships always come, she said, and she found that in Conant.
A few years ago he mentioned to Hoffner, then 100 years old, that he was going skydiving. “That sounds really interesting,” she told him. “I think I want to do that.” Conant said he was “totally caught off guard, but she was completely serious.” They skydived later that year, Hoffner’s inaugural skydive. Hoffner “absolutely loved it,” he said.
Earlier this month, at age 104, Hoffner decided to make her second skydive jump. Derek Baxter, the instructor at Skydive Chicago who jumped with Hoffner, said he wanted to make sure she could pick her legs up during landing.
“She did it a lot better than most people,” said Baxter, whose descent with Hoffner on Sunday was jump No. 10,402 for him. On the way down, Hoffner was “hooting and hollering as much as she wanted,” he said.
Video of the jump shows Hoffner looking around with her eyes wide open under goggles and her baby blue sweater billowing as she parachutes down, seemingly relaxed. (She later lamented that she had forgotten to pray before the dive.)
When she touched down, and the questions started coming about what the dive was like, Hoffner said she had answered with a version of “I just felt comfortable up there.” As it turns out, one of Hoffner’s last acts on earth was to make that skydive. One week later she died in her sleep.
Perhaps your immediate reaction is one of sadness knowing of Dorothy’s passing so soon after her “record breaking” skydive jump. But another reaction would be to see her as an example of someone who lived life fully and refused to let age or the doubt of others keep her from an experience in which she found passion and purpose. We are inspired by Dorothy Hoffner and hope you are too.
Written by Mark Palmer, Partner and Co-Founder