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When Pat was ten years old, she told her mother that she was going exploring.

It turns out that her idea of exploration was digging up the backyard—taking an adventure into the past.

The young archaeologist unearthed a lantern, two candlesticks, and an unwavering passion for archaeology that would last her whole life. 

Pat’s love for discovering the past’s culture and history continued to evolve with her, and she visited all of upstate New York’s museums and historical sites. In the 9th grade, her carefully constructed diorama about dinosaurs—complete with a volcano, of course—won first place in her school’s science fair.

At the same time, a new idea entered Pat’s life. While still in the 9th grade, she came across a pamphlet for the Marine Corps. Pat remembers reading it over and over until she had memorized every word. She knew that military service was the next step along her path.

Finally, when she was a senior in high school, Pat met with a Marine recruiter. But the meeting didn’t go as she expected. The recruiter did not give her a satisfactory answer when she asked what life as a marine would be like for a young woman. After giving it careful thought, Pat decided that the Air Force was a better fit for her future.

Pat enlisted for four years. That four years turned into a successful Air Force communications career, taking her from the Philippines and Germany to Oklahoma and California.

After 22 years of service, Pat was a decorated Air Force Master Sergeant—and she was ready to turn her eyes back from the skies to the ground. But, as a single mother with young children, pursuing archaeology was not a reality. Pat spent the following years of her life focused on raising her four children and creating a welcoming and safe space for all of her family members who needed care. She never lost interest along the way, giving her children dinosaur toys to play with and reading articles in National Geographic magazine.

Today, with her children grown and with children of their own, Pat’s free time has led her back to her dream.

At age 70, she still has one of the candlesticks from her first “dig”—and she is ready to get right back into the dirt! 

With Wish of a Lifetime’s help, Pat joined the Alliance for Weedon Island Archaeological Research and Education (AWIARE) in February of 2020 for a hands-on, five-day-long excavation. The Weedon Island Preserve is a sprawling, 3,190-acre natural area that indigenous people occupied for thousands of years. Today, it is one of Florida’s most active archaeological sites.

Traveling 3,000 years into the past, Pat helped with excavation, recording data, and screening sediment. Alongside professional archeologists and researchers, she collected artifacts, bones, and samples that revealed clues about the lives of early people in the region.

But Pat did more than unearth the past. While she sifted through soil and sediment, she also discovered that it’s never too late to return to a dream.

“I think this would inspire people to see that they can do things out of the ordinary, even in old age,” she said.

Pat reignited her oldest passion and fulfilled her dream. Today, she’s proud to show her family and to teach her grandchildren that it is never too late—and that you are never too old—to fulfill your goals and dreams.

“If a 70-year-old can do something that her 18-year-old self wanted, I think that would be inspiring to anybody,” Pat said.

And all of us at Wish of a Lifetime couldn’t agree more.

Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is changing how we age, one inspirational wish at a time.

Submit a life-changing wish in your community, and share your favorite wish story on Facebook and Instagram to inspire your network!