August 25, 2004

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Sky High with Harriet

Even at age 97, she is still flying high and finds that life can be exciting


Tribune Columnist


Pilot Roger Hamilton takes 97-year-old Harriet Kaser of North Liberty up to an altitude of 700 feet.

Tribune Photo


Even before her land legs had steadied after a 20-minute powered parachute ride, 97-year-old Harriet Kaser was fielding suggestions for her next adventure.

"What about bungee jumping, Grandma," kidded her great-grandson, Casey Shipley. Harriet gave him a smile -- and then gave it back to him.

"Hey, maybe I just will," she said.

She was still flying high -- almost as high as the 700-foot altitude that pilot Roger Hamilton reached with her above the farmlands around Walkerton and North Liberty early Monday evening.

"Wow, now that was a trip," Harriet said. "It is just so beautiful up there above everything."

"Oh, Grandma always is one to do odd stuff," Anita Shipley chuckled. "She always has been a spunky woman."

Even at 97 years old.

For several years, Harriet has wanted to go up in a powered parachute. She had seen them high above her North Liberty farmhouse and thought it looked like a grand time.

Her late husband, Charles, wasn't so sure he wanted her flying up there with the birds.

"He said he would drop her off (at Hop's Powered Parachutes near Walkerton) but that she would have to walk home," said Millie Kaser, who is married to Harriet's son, Alan. "He wasn't going to stick around."

Charles died 11 years ago, and Harriet began talking about it again.

"I don't even want to live to be 100, but while I can still do some things, I do want to," she says.

Her son, Alan, laughs. "Her doctor always says she is going to make it to 100, and she tells him she doesn't want to hear it. But last time she was in for a checkup, he started to say something and she cut him off. 'I know what you're going to tell me. I'm going to live to be 100, right?'

Harriet Kaser, 97, gets her final instructions before she is taken up in a powered parachute near Walkerton.

Tribune Photo


"And that's when he said to her, 'No, you're going to live well past 100.' "

Harriet took that news with a shrug. Charles, her husband of 66 years, is gone and so are two of her children, a grandchild and all four of her siblings.

She figures she has lived just about long enough.

But then she looks into the eyes of several of her great- grandchildren and even one of her three great-great-grandkids -- 2-year-old Max Kaser -- who came out to watch her fly, and life can still seem pretty exciting.

"Oh, I would do this again in a minute," Harriet says of her powered parachuting adventure.

Hoppy and Marilyn Hochstetler, who have had the business for 20 years and who recently sold their popular Stuntz & Hochstetler Christmas tree farm and shop, say that Harriet is their oldest flier -- although only by three years.

Harriet donned a helmet and was strapped into the passenger seat of the little flying machine with its 65 horsepower motor and colorful parachute. Only joy registered on her sweetie-pie face.

As it took off after heading down the grass runway at about 30 miles an hour, she waved to her family.

"We saw turkeys and farmers out working and the checkerboard fields," she later said. "No, I wasn't scared at all. When Roger (Hamilton, the pilot) asked if I wanted to go higher than 500 feet, I said I would love to."

The ride of her life.

This is a woman who still lives alone, makes her own meals and goes to church every Sunday morning at St. John's Lutheran church in North Liberty. Although she uses a cane and needs a magnifying glass to read the paper, she is pretty darn independent.

And the next adventure?

"She has talked about renting a pontoon boat and going fishing again," Millie says.

Harriet hasn't mentioned just yet if she will want to try water-skiing behind the boat.

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Bill Moor's column appears on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at, or write him at the South Bend Tribune, 225 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626; (574) 235-6072.