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Barbara Embarks on a Whale-Watching Adventure

“Wait till you see a whale—they’re as large as a school bus!” These words from Barbara’s beloved Uncle John have stayed with her for her entire life.

As a young girl growing up on a rural farm in Wisconsin, Barbara’s imagination was fueled by the experiences and stories of her favorite person. Her intrepid Uncle John had served on a World War II Army Carrier and had an undeniable zest for life. When he and his family would visit Barbara’s family on the farm, “crazy Uncle John” would always get them into some hi-jinks, like chasing gophers.

After he moved to Alaska, John wrote letters to Barbara, describing his adventures like whale watching and seeing glaciers the size of skyscrapers. Barbara remembers spending hours on the school bus re-reading her letters, looking out the window, and imagining the wondrous world beyond her gaze.

“I was seven or eight years old,” she said. “I rode the school bus every day. It never left me.”

Reflecting on her past, Barbara understands how significant those letters were to her. They gave her a picture of life outside the farm and an escape from the challenges of her childhood.

As an adult, Barbara has expressed her deep affection for her uncle through acts of service for Veterans. For the last 16 years, she has spent countless hours volunteering at Fort Morgan Cemetery, attending the services of fallen Veterans, and making baked goods from scratch to comfort people in need. She also makes monthly donations to support the work of Paralyzed Veterans of America, The VFW, St. Jude’s Hospital, and programs providing dogs for Veterans—all while living on a fixed income.

That’s because supporting those in need is one of Barbara’s deepest values. Before focusing her energy on helping Veterans, Barbara was a caregiver for her husband for many years. When he was suddenly diagnosed with dementia, Barbara retired early to devote herself entirely to his care for almost three years.

Following her husband’s passing, Barbara’s caregiving journey was not over. She learned that her brother had fallen gravely ill with pneumonia. Although they had been estranged for almost 40 years, Barbara remembered their pinky promise in childhood to always be there for each other in hard times.

Barbara dropped everything to become her brother’s caregiver. Despite a bleak prognosis of only three months, he lived an additional 18 months under her dutiful care.

While caring for others has given Barbara meaning and purpose, she has not had opportunities to travel, see the world, or explore nature.

When Wish of a Lifetime from AARP heard Barbara’s story, we were honored to help her achieve a lifelong dream. And we knew where she could recapture her childhood sense of wonder again!

Barbara, accompanied by her close friend Nancy, traveled to Alaska for the excursion of a lifetime. In Seward, they explored the town to learn about local history and tried the local cuisine at various restaurants.

The true highlight of the trip came after they left the harbor. Barbara and Nancy eagerly boarded a Kenai Fjords cruise ship. They set off for incredible wildlife and glacier viewing in Kenai Fjords National Park, which covers over 1,000 square miles of land and water in Southcentral Alaska.

As they pulled away from the shore, Barbara could hardly believe her eyes as she took in the expansive ocean and mountains all around her—it took her breath away. They sailed by lush forests, tumbling glaciers, and towering rock walls. It was everything she had imagined and more.

And, just like her Uncle John had described, Barbara finally saw whales as big as school buses.

“The whales were absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “We saw four different kinds. The killer whales were beautiful and playful.”

The trip would not have been complete without seeing glaciers. And, to Barbara’s surprise, they were the size of skyscrapers! Their ship pulled up right in front, and they witnessed one spectacular wall of ice in detail.

“They said it was 900 feet tall,” Barbara explained. “The photographer even got a picture of me holding a chunk of glacier ice that broke off!”

When she returned home, Barbara was full of gratitude and felt rejuvenated by this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It was the best trip I’ve ever had,” she said. “This was something that I’ve been holding on to since I was seven years old. I couldn’t even believe that it was me standing there, getting to enjoy that!”

But we could not think of someone more deserving of the experience.

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Our thanks go to AARP Foundation for their support of Wish of a Lifetime from AARP. To learn more about sponsorship, please contact Dana Rinderknecht.

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