About six months ago, family members and friends of Trudy Joseph traveled to Salt Lake City to say goodbye to their 89-year-old mother, grandmother and aunt who appeared to be on her deathbed after several serious medical setbacks.
On Friday, they gathered again, this time to watch Trudy leap out of an airplane, an adventure she undertook in honor of her 90th birthday, which is Oct. 18.
“It just feels good,” Trudy said as she prepared for her jump with Skydive Utah at the Tooele Valley Airport in Erda. “You feel like a bird.”
Friday’s jump was Trudy’s third. Her first sky dive was for her 80th birthday a decade ago, and she did it again three years ago at 87.
It all started more than a decade ago, when Trudy’s husband, Charlie, died.
“We asked her what she wanted to do now, as a widow, and she said, ‘I always wanted to sky dive,’” said Trudy’s daughter, Tracey Bartlett. “We asked why she never mentioned that before and she said, ‘Well, Charlie always thought I was crazy anyway so I just didn’t bring it up,’”
Friday’s successful venture, which she did in tandem with Skydive Utah employee Hartman Rector, was her third scheduled attempt to mark her 90th birthday. Many family members and friends flew into Salt Lake City to watch her jump Sept. 23, but iffy weather got in the way. She rescheduled for Sept. 30, but again clouds intervened.
“I’m excited,” Trudy said Friday while suiting up, with help from the employees, after the weather prognosticators finally gave the green light. As the gear was being placed on her back, the tiny soon-to-be nonagenarian began falling backward from the weight, but several hands shot out to steady her.
That Trudy is a character is evident from the stories her children tell.
“When she jumped three yeas ago,” Bartlett said, “the young man she was jumping with had just strapped his chute on over his jumping suit and Mom said, ‘Nice package.’”
Her health had deteriorated so badly earlier this year that she was in hospice care when relatives came to say their goodbyes.
She seemed unconscious, laying on her bed, when son Wayne, said, “Mom, are you coming or going? We just need to know,” recounted daughter Tammi Gladstone, who flew in from Virginia to witness the scheduled jump Sept. 23, only to go away disappointed. “After a few minutes, she said, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’”
Trudy’s health declined after she had several bowel blockages. Then, after she seemed to be on her way to recovery, she fell and broke her hip.
But that hasn’t slowed her.
When fellow jumpers commented on her dazzling, wavy red hair, she whispered to daughter Tracey, “Don’t tell them I color it.”
With Trudy’s red hair complemented by her purple framed glasses and her purple painted fingernails, granddaughter Brooklyn Joseph, a member of the Utah Army National Guard, exclaimed, “You are one bad-a-- grandma.”
For years, Charlie and Trudy ran a diner in South Salt Lake called C&T Cafe (for Charlie and Trudy). She also kept the books for Charlie’s trucking business.
They reared five children, with three still living, and have 12 grandchildren.
“We get about five or six people over 80 a year who want to dive,” said Rector, the tandem diver for Skydive Utah.
Perhaps the most famous elderly jumper is former President George H.W. Bush, a pilot during World War II who parachuted at age 90 three years ago.
While Trudy’s jump received far less fanfare, she had plenty of support from loved ones as they stood outside the airport hangar trying to identify which chute coming down from the sky was Trudy’s.
As she landed on a nearby weedy field, they rushed to her side and brought a wheelchair to help her back inside.
Her first comment, while sitting on the ground: “I thought I was in Alaska. It was cold up there.”
But there was a gleam in her eye that said this jump might not be her last.