Biplane rides at Waupaca airport
By Angie Landsverk
Katie Ligenza’s ride in a World War II open-cockpit biplane was an emotional one for her.
“My husband and I had always talked about doing the Dream Flight,” she said.
Her late husband Lee served in the U.S. Marines, while she served in the U.S. Navy.
They met on her first night in the service and were married for 50 years before he passed away March 21, 2016.
Ligenza served at Great Lakes Yeoman from 1965 to 1967 in special services, working with military police on disturbance calls.
The La Crosse native lived in Stevens Point for 50-plus years and moved to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King last August.
It was there she found out the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation was bringing its Dream Flights to Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field.
She filled out an application and was among the approximately one dozen veterans from throughout Waupaca County chosen to ride in the biplane June 22.
“I was nervous, partly because I was the first one to go up,” Ligenza said.
Darryl Fisher, founder and president of the foundation, was her pilot.
“It’s an honor to be here today. It’s our first time in Waupaca,” he said. “We are here to fulfill our mission – to honor those who have given. We do this for one reason – to say thank you.”
The nonprofit provides these free flights to veterans.
Dream Flights took place in Stevens Point the last several years.
The Waupaca County Caregivers Coalition wanted to bring it to Waupaca County.
The coalition sponsored last week’s event at Waupaca’s airport.
Efforts are underway to add a Boeing Stearman at Stevens Point Municipal Airport.
It will be called the Spirit of Wisconsin.
Tim Dietzen, member of the Waupaca County Caregivers Coalition, said the Dream Flight is a way to honor veterans for their service and sacrifice.
“The service members we honor today come from all walks of life. Many of them didn’t ask to leave their homes and fight on distant battlefields,” he said. “They were ordinary people called to serve.”
Deb Brunner is also a member of the coalition.
She said, “As a coalition in the county, we are about taking care of those who took care of us.”
Before Ligenza got into the plane, she showed Fisher a picture of her husband.
After the approximately 20-minute flight, Fisher gave her a hat on which he wrote, “In honor of Lee.”
Ligenza wanted to do this now, because she cannot see out of her left eye and has macular degeneration in her right eye.
“It’s so beautiful when you look out,” she said. “It was wonderful. Sitting in that plane is so cool.”
Eleven veterans were at the airport last Thursday for the event. There were also two alternates.
Holly Hurda, an account liaison at Heartland Hospice Care, said even with an hour rain delay in the afternoon, everyone who wanted to was able to go on a flight.
One man opted out, she said, allowing one of the alternates the opportunity to fly.
“It was so touching to meet these men and women in person and hear their stories,” she said. “The support from the Waupaca County Caregivers Coalition, the flyers’ care facilities, sponsors and community members was overwhelmingly heartwarming.”
Hurda also appreciates the New London, Ogdensburg and Waupaca fire departments for the hours their members spent on site, helping veterans get in and out of the plane.
“As the pilot has said, seeing veterans getting this Dream Flight with all these volunteers working together is just magic,” Hurda said.