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High-flyin' granny

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Balloon-flying Ada Bauchspies, 90, Lehighton, is matriarch of five generations.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Balloon-flying Ada Bauchspies, 90, Lehighton, is matriarch of five generations.
Published November 04. 2011 05:02PM

Many people have a bucket list of things they want to do in life.

But for Ada Bauchspies, it's a basket list - a heavy, woven basket attached to an 80-foot balloon.

On Sunday, October 23, the 90-year-old Lehighton grandmother tackled one of her wildest dreams when she soared on inflated gossamer wings, drifting into the horizon aboard a hot air balloon.

Like the Wizard of Oz, Ada lifted off and sailed the skies over Emerald City, in this case, Kresgeville. She drifted over the world below and witnessed - from unique vantage point - birds, cars and people going about the daily earthly hubbub.

"It was awesome," says Ada. "The sky was blue and we just floated over the trees and houses. People would wave. They came out of their houses and tried to call up to us as we went over."

Ada's balloon floated along the countryside in a miniature adventure akin to Around the World in 80 Days. The 7 a.m. flight left the area of the Polk Township Fire Company and took 90 minutes, traveling in silence and transforming everyday scenes of Monroe County into spectacular, memorable aerial views. The balloon ultimately landed in the town of Gilbert near the West End Fairgrounds. But what took place in between was something Ada will remember forever.

"The trees were in their color," she says. "But it was too late in the season for full color. I saw different streams and the way the houses were built up into mountains."

The event was presented as a 90th birthday gift from Ada's son, Glenn, and wife, the former Crystal Mertz. In fact, the great escape into the blue beyond was a double adventure because Crystal and her mother, Jean Mertz of Franklin Township, joined Ada by traveling in a companion balloon. The trip represented a major accomplishment for Mertz, too, who will turn 80 on May 12.

As for Ada, her birthday was July 13. The planned flight had been grounded on several earlier attempts due to unpredictable weather patterns of the Pocono Mountains.

The vision of double balloons soaring 560-feet above sea level presented a surreal sight for motorists and residents, some of whom grabbed cameras to freeze the image for posterity.

The two 90,000-square-foot balloons were launched by Ray and Dawn Chase of Balloon Chase Adventures, Moscow, and Robert and Nancy Beck of Haskell, N.J. Both parties are experts in the field.

"You actually need a pilot's license to fly one," notes Glenn.

The balloons require precise weather conditions in order to lift off and are heavily dependent on wind patterns.

"They only thing they can do is go up and down," Glenn explains.

Each airship costs about $15,000 just for the balloon itself, not including the basket and paraphernalia. But the joy it brings is priceless, say the sojourners.

"It was as calm as could be. I would love to go up again," says Ada. "I would do it again tomorrow. I hated to come down."

Glenn says his mother wanted to take a balloon ride "ever since I'd taken her to the Shawnee Balloon Festival."

Ada says she can remember wanting to do it for many, many years. Deep inside, she figured her day would come. For Ada, hope springs eternal. A personable and charming woman, Ada simply doesn't believe in self-imposed limits or boundaries. The former Ada Neeb of Indian Hill, she jumps at a challenge or adventure, whether dabbling in a new hobby or taking a cruise to Hawaii.

In her youth, she swam extensively, including long distance swimming, and was a skilled basketball player. After graduation from Packerton School in 1937, Ada resumed studies at Lehighton High School, graduating in 1939 and then completing her education at Easton School of Nursing.

She held several positions over the years and is a familiar face to local residents, having worked at the Lehighton 5 and 10 in the pre-war years, and then a career of twenty years at Acme Markets.

Ada was married for 59 years to Clarence Bauchspies of Jim Thorpe, an Air Force veteran. He passed away in 2000. The Bauchspies' also have a daughter, Carol, wife of Joe McGowan of Lehighton, along with three grandchildren, one great-granchild, and two great-greats.

The recent trip set a record for the balloon company.

"Nancy Beck told us that the oldest person was 86," says Glenn. In that regard, hosting Ada at 90 and Jean Mertz at almost 80 was a double treat for the balloon company. The event honored two women of strength and determination. Following the landing, the entourage enjoyed banana cake and champagne-mimosa cocktails, along with a celebratory breakfast. Ada notes that the journey began with a prayer, a special touch. After that, she wasn't hesitant one bit to climb aboard.

"I wasn't afraid at all," she says. "The pilot was a jolly person. And the landing was perfect. Two men caught our balloon before it hit the grass," still covered with morning dew. "It didn't even get wet," she adds. "And it's amazing how they wrap it up. They pull it together and use straps."

And so Ada adds another accomplishment to her basket list. Nobody knows what she might do next.

Will it be a zip line ride? Or something more sedate? Ada says she has no definite plans.

"I can't do anything else except enjoy life as much as I can," she says. "As long as the good Lord wills it."

And that just might be the ultimate goal for everyone who follows a path. Our challenges are personal to our situation and desires. They're our very own. Whether a bucket list or a basket list, the things we wish to try during our lifetime are uniquely ours. Some folks explore volcanoes. Others climb Mt. Everest or go deep-sea diving. Still others simply revel in a hobby or pursuit. All of us draw inspiration in special ways, reaching for heights that only each of us understands.

Ada wanted to see the world from up high - not from an airplane or supersonic jet - but from a silent wicker basket tethered to the graceful beauty of a floating bubble. Aboard that hushed ride, she communed with nature in a divinely elegant way. At ninety-years young, Ada Bauchspies has proven that boundaries do not exist. And courage and wonder have no age.

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