In this June 24 photo, John Ciesielski, 91, smiles as he greets family members after arriving to go skydiving at the Skydive Midwest Skydiving Center in Sylvania, Wis. Ciesielski always wanted to go skydiving, so his family got him a skydiving package for Father's Day.
STURTEVANT - John Ciesielski of Kenosha sat waiting for more than four hours for his turn to jump 14,000 feet from a plane earlier this month.
A near-perfect blue sky, with a few wispy and fluffy clouds here and there, he couldn't have asked for a better day as at least two dozen family and friends held a cookout and gathered on the patio beneath the canopy created by the large viewing deck at Skydive Midwest at the Sylvania Airport in Sturtevant.
They came for support and to wish the 91-year-old well.
Ciesielski wasn't worried about the wait. He'd been waiting 91 years to do something like this, he told instructor Kazu Oyama who helped him strap on his gear.
Of course, he'd never gone skydiving before, but had always wanted to. As a boy, he'd always wondered what it would be like to fly. He was so inspired in the beginning that he raised homing pigeons — those bred for their ability to find their way home over long distances — when he was a kid.
"Kenosha had a little contest. You'd take them out 100, 200 miles and all that. And I let my pigeons out.
I had about 200 of them," Ciesielski told the Kenosha News.
He would watch them fly and circle around. He also lived close to the Kenosha airport, where he'd stare in wonderment as the airplanes would take off and land "I thought, 'It must be wonderful,'" he said, of being in the sky.
Three years ago, Ciesielski's grandson had a friend who was a pilot and they were to go skydiving at the Kenosha lakefront, but he wasn't feeling well. He was relegated to watching them.
"It was a nice summer day and I was so angry that I couldn't go with them," he said.
When he was 6, on the first day of school, Ciesielski's appendix burst and before he knew it, he was suffering from such bad peritonitis that doctors didn't think he would survive the night.
"They called a priest in to give the last rites," he said. "But I was blessed to have a second chance in life."
Wistfully, he looked up at the sky and inhaled, as if exhilarated by the sight.
"Oh wow," he said smiling. "That's so beautiful."
This day, nothing was stopping Ciesielski, whose granddaughter Dina Flannery and son Dan (Dina's uncle) accompanied him on the jump. Flannery, who had been at his side when he was ill three years ago, had promised her grandfather that she would jump with him when he felt better.
"I probably wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for him," said Flannery, who admitted to being afraid of heights, just minutes before boarding their large bird. "I made a commitment to him because I just feel that it's an honor to be able to do something like this with him. He's an amazing man. He's the heart of our family and I feel like I would do anything for him."
Dan said he wasn't going to miss his dad's adventure either, a belated Father's Day gift from the family.
"I said he wasn't going to do this alone. He ain't jumping out of an airplane by himself," he said.
According to Ciesielski's sister, Elsie Carver, 95, of Kenosha, her "baby brother" had long articulated his desire to take to the wild blue yonder.
"I'm pretty excited about (him jumping)," Carver said. "I mean, if this is what he wanted to do, I'm glad he's going to have the opportunity to do it."
Carver wasn't really shocked at her brother's proposal to skydive, even at his age now.
"Well, I've said to him, 'Is this really on your bucket list?'," she said. "And he said, 'I don't know about my bucket list, but I've been wanting to do this since I was 15 years old'."
Two years ago, Cielsielski's wife, Doris, died of congestive heart failure. Had she been alive to see him skydiving, he said, she would've surely disapproved. She was worried he'd break his legs.
As close as he was going to be to the heavens this day, "maybe she could put in a good word for me," he said half joking.
At 4:03 p.m. Ciesielski, his son and his granddaughter boarded the plane and about 25 minutes later, their parachutes floated over the airfield and onto the grass to a proud round of applause.
"It was thrilling," Ciesielski said, after touching down. "It was worth waiting for. My very first time — and it might not be the last. It was amazing ... I felt like a little kid."