LIMA — Donald Zimmerman, 90, of Lima, resides at the Wyngate Nursing Home, in Lima. He has lived at the Wyngate for just a few months.
A nurse at Wyngate, Connie, happened to be talking with Zimmerman one day about regrets. She asked if he had any regrets in his 90 years. Zimmerman told her he had just one. His one regret was that he never received his pilots license.
As a teenager in 1944, Zimmerman had started flight lessons. He logged 15 flights during 1944 and 1945 at the old airport on Baty Road in Lima. The last time he flew was in May 1945. Not enough to secure an actual pilot license, but close, according to Josh Tattrie, manager of the Allen County Airport.
“One or two more flights and he would have had it,” Tattrie said. “Typically pilots get to solo on their 12th hour. He was getting close.”
According to Zimmerman, life got in the way. He graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Army. Zimmerman was stationed stateside as a marksman.
Upon his release from the Army, Zimmerman met his wife, Patricia. They had two children, his son, Tom Zimmerman, of North Ridgeville, and daughter, Barbara Witt, of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.
Zimmerman retired after 23 years from Lima Memorial as business director.
The conversation with his nurse at Wyngate started the ball rolling. Linda Smith, of Wyngate Nursing Home, contacted Tattrie and asked if there were a way to give Zimmerman an honorary pilot license of some sort. Tattrie thought an actual flight would be better, and together, they arranged for Zimmerman to get both an honorary pilot license and an actual flight on a small 172-C Model Cessna on Monday afternoon.
Tattrie’s plan was to fly out of the Allen County Airport and land at the Bluffton Airport, as winds were too strong to land back at the Allen County Airport.
Getting a pilot license was no easy task for Zimmerman, but he strived to accomplish it back in the 1940s.
“In those days you ran out of money. It cost $10 an hour to fly, which was a lot of money when you were working for 35 cents an hour,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman was asked by his son if he were nervous.
“I’m not nervous, should I be? It’s like riding a bicycle, you can’t forget it. Flying is a lot like that,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman was most looking forward to seeing Lima from the air.
“Looking down at the Earth and seeing things I recognize and enjoying the trip,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t suppose there are enough words to express what I will be feeling. I am sure it will be enjoyable.”
Zimmerman motioned for his son and grandson, Tommy, to get in the backseat. They both shook their heads no.
“We wanted him to experience it just himself. We can’t wait to hear his story when he lands,” Tom Zimmerman said.
After the flight, Zimmerman’s son and grandson picked Zimmerman up at the Bluffton Airport and drove him to lunch and then back to Wyngate Nursing Home in Lima.
“He was beaming, he was excited, he was happy, he was proud, he was everything that you could possibly hope for in a situation like this,” Tom Zimmerman said. “He said it was just like drinking a cool glass of water, absolutely marvelous. He talked to my son, his grandson, and I for about two and a half hours afterward all about what happened.”
Tattrie got the plane up in the air. As soon as take-off was completed, he turned the controls over to Zimmerman, and he flew the plane all the way to the Bluffton Airport, and then Josh took over the controls and landed the plane.
Tattrie gave Zimmerman his honorary pilot license and updated Zimmerman’s flight book.
“He was very proud and happy about that,” Zimmerman said. “It’s official. It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. He’s still grinning.”
Reach Merri Hanjora at 567-242-0511.