My friend Bob Haverstick founded an organization in 2001 known as Never Too Late, which granted some 2,000 final wishes from senior citizens over a period of a dozen years. I had the honor of showcasing many of these requests being fulfilled on my WISH-TV segments. Here are a few of my favorites:
Albert and Esther had fallen for each other 60 years earlier. Now they were going to fall with each other. Their wish was to skydive for their 60th anniversary. Both would be tethered to a professional diver. On live TV, Albert and Esther landed within moments of each other. I ran over with a microphone and asked about their overall experience. “Make sure you ask both of us,” said Esther. “I can hardly see anything and Albert can hardly hear anything.”
Eloise always liked to go fast. But then in her late 70s, things were slowing down in her life and she wanted one last chance to do something racy. Her Never Too Late request was to get into a dragster and barrel down the track at Raceway Park. On live TV, we put Eloise in the back of a two-seater car, buckled her harness and off she went at 170 mph. Seconds later she crossed the finish line. I assumed that was going to be one of the highlights of her life, but she looked a bit disappointed. “How was it?” I asked.
“Well,” she huffed, “I thought I was going to drive.”
Mildred loved baseball. She played it as a kid, often besting her male teammates. Her request to Bob Haverstick was to hit a ball at Victory Field. Mildred had become legally blind, so with the help of a physical therapist, she worked for weeks to overcome the challenges of macular degeneration by learning to watch the ball out of the corner of her eye. One day at Victory Field, in front of thousands of spectators, she swatted at a pitch and connected. It wasn’t a home run, but the TV segment was.
Jimmy Dunham was an Indianapolis 500 mechanic (in his day, mechanics rode with the driver) but Jimmy had not been to a race since he and driver Kelly Petillo were victorious in 1935. In 2005, Never Too Late flew Jimmy in from California to see the race, accompanied by his son and grandson. Prior to the start, Jimmy studied the drivers and the cars and correctly predicted Danny Weldon would cross the finish line first. So, for the second time in 70 years, Jimmy Dunham was a winner.
Paul and Georgia were celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary. They were both 100 years old and Paul had been a fan of my segments. “I’ve been watching you since I was a little boy,” he said when he met me. Paul and Georgia were both lucid, but Georgia had been experiencing some memory loss. During the interview, Paul disclosed the key to their long marriage: “We have never had a fight in 80 years.”
Hearing that, Georgia expressed surprise: “And they think I’m the one with Alzheimer’s.”
Finally, there was Anna, who at 100 requested to meet me in person. I went to her 100th birthday celebration at a square dance. Then I went to her 101st birthday, then 102, 103, 104 and 105. The last time we gathered for her birthday, she whispered in my ear, “This is too tiring for me. Let’s just do it every three years.”