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Jim Willis, age 87, a cancer survivor and great-grandfather of 20, is a Brookdale resident at Freedom Village at Bradenton in Florida. Over a decade ago, Jim had the opportunity to go hang gliding, but his flight was cancelled due to poor weather conditions. Ever since then, this thrill-seeking older adult’s dream was to hang glide once and for all, so he could “float in the air like a bird.”

Jim attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1951 with a split major in agricultural engineering and commerce. He was getting ready to join the army when luckily, the Korean War came to an end. After working in a farm supply store for 13 years, his family business, Jim became a loan officer. At the time of his retirement 26 years later, Jim had worked his way up to the Vice President of the bank.

Even throughout his busy career, Jim made it a priority to be involved in his community and always found time to give back to others. Jim volunteered in many capacities, including serving as the State Representative for the Red Cross for 10 years and fundraising for the Salvation Army Christmas Fund for 5 years.


Jim has been physically active throughout his entire life. Each winter his family would travel to Colorado to go skiing. He has had both of his knees replaced, one shoulder replaced, and his hip replaced twice! Since Jim has always possessed a penchant for adventure, he had wanted to try hang gliding for a long time. About 10 years ago, Jim had the opportunity to go hang gliding while in New Zealand. Just before takeoff, a strong wind came up and his flight was canceled. Jim recalls, “I never had another chance to go hang gliding and have always regretted it. While many other older adults may shy away from activities that pose potential danger and an adrenaline rush, this longtime wish speaks to Jim’s daring spirit and youthful exuberance.

Wish of a Lifetime, in partnership with Brookdale and TENA, sent Jim on an unforgettable, soaring tandem hang gliding flight on January 27th, 2017. Jim’s fellow Brookdale residents and his wife of 67 years, joined him on the trip to Wallaby Ranch, a famous hang gliding destination, cheering him on as he soared from 2000 feet in the air with a professional hang glider. Jim declared, “This will show older people in our retirement home that you are never too old to try something new!”

“My theory is, you’re only young once but you can stay that way for a long time. Just don’t give up, do the things you want to do, have fun in life and be everyone’s friend.”