PORT ANGELES — At 94, Lois Draper has pretty much seen it all. But even with the memories and experiences of a long life, Draper has never ridden in a hot air balloon.
That will change today, thanks to the Dream Catcher Balloon Program. The program, organized by the Chrysalis 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, provides rides to disabled people in a custom, 45,000-cubic-foot balloon.
The balloon, under the control of Captain Crystal Stout, will be lifting off from 9 to 11 this morning at the south end of Civic Field, 307 S. Race St., as part of the inaugural Grandparents Day Family Lift-Off.
The public is invited to the lift-off and can take a ride in the balloon for a $10 donation to Chrysalis. The donations will allow the nonprofit to provide free flights to disabled people across the country, Stout said.
Live music by Dave and Rosalie Secord, helium balloons for kids and coffee and pastries are planned.
Using a special seat, the hot air balloon allows disabled people to float in the hot air balloon tethered 25 feet above the ground — and allows family, friends and caregivers to share in the moment, Stout said.
“I am ready to fly,” Draper said Thursday afternoon.
Draper is a spry, effervescent woman whose big personality brightens whatever room she is in — despite her small stature. She said she is 4 feet, 11 inches tall and she handcrafts her own clothing.
“The more you think of getting away, the higher you go, the more giggly you get,” Draper continued, barely able to control her infectious laughter.
“I am so excited about it.”
Draper is one of several residents at the Laurel Place Assisted Living facility — ranging in age from 61 to 103 — who are scheduled to take a ride in the balloon today.
The two-seat balloon cost about $25,000 to commission and was designed “to be able to allow grandparents or seniors to do something fun with their families so they can all share in something extraordinary,” Stout said this week.
“A lot of people who are wheelchair-bound or more ground-based would not be doing this, whereas their kids could. This will allow everyone to do something together that they could talk about in the future.”
The balloon seat is 22 inches off the ground to accommodate folks in wheelchairs. The seating is made of aircraft aluminum and stainless steel, and was crafted locally by Allform Welding Inc., a Carlsborg-area business owned by Dan Donovan.
During each flight, Stout will take up one adult.
“If kids are very small, they can sit on the laps of their parents and the whole family can enjoy that … and have a relaxing time as a family unit,” Stout said.
“We are only 25 feet from the ground so that no one gets up too high but still gets the chance to be in a hot air balloon. Grandpa can go up, or Grandma, and then maybe their grandkids can follow.”
The ride is something special for Maxine Clark, 103, a Laurel Place Assisted Living resident, said her daughter, Susan Marx of Port Angeles.
“I am going to be there with a camera watching her reaction,” Marx said.
When asked if she was ready for the flight, Norma Sue Becker, 89, another Laurel Place resident, crossed her fingers on both hands and said, “I am wondering … should I do this or should I not?”
Becker said she is afraid of heights and has never been in a hot air balloon before.
This will be the first time in a hot air balloon for Mildred Marie Harris, 95, the Laurel Place resident said Thursday.
“My grandkids are going up, and they want me to go with them,” Harris said.
“There is a first time for everything. I try to do everything that comes up and stay active.”
Joyce Madison, 86, another Laurel Place resident, said she thinks the experience “will be great.”
Perhaps the youngest Laurel Place resident scheduled to participate in the flight, Craig Donelson, 61, is hoping he will be able to get on the balloon.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004 and said he gets weak and stiff sometimes.
“Hopefully I will be able to take this trip on the balloon,” Donelson said.
“I am going to try to make the best I can.”
For more information, visit www.dreamcatcherballoon.org.
Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at email@example.com.