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Family gives birthday flight to area senior

Ever since Dwane Hilmer moved to the lakes area from his native Iowa 38 years ago, he's had a secret wish to see his new home from the air.

On Thursday, that wish came true, courtesy of his children. Hilmer, accompanied by his two great-granddaughters, Karissa and Keely, took a custom-chartered flight from Beartooth Flight Center at the Detroit Lakes Airport to see both his former home on Lake Mellissa, where he and his wife owned Hilmer's Haven Resort for many years, and his new home on Little McDonald Lake near Dent.

The hour-long flight was paid for by his four sons, Dean, Gary, Rick and David. Though his 80th birthday isn't until Aug. 24, they decided to give him his present now, while they were all in the area visiting.

"None of us live here now," said Arlene Hilmer, Rick's wife, who was at the airport on Thursday.

Rick lives in Indiana, Dean in Missouri and Dean in Iowa; Gary, who lives in Rochester, Minn., is the closest, Arlene added.

Though it might seem like this event involved a lot of long, careful planning, it was actually a very spur-of-the-moment inspiration, according to Rick and Arlene.

"We were out driving around the lake (on Monday night), and we saw an airplane with floats on it, flying over us," Rick said. "He (Dwane) said, 'I'd sure like to see this from the sky.'"

"We asked Dad if he would like to be up there, and he said he'd love it -- so we made it happen," Arlene added.

After consulting with their siblings, Arlene called Dani Johnson, office manager at Beartooth Flight Center, and arranged for pilot Robert Lund to be available on Thursday morning.

Johnson called this newspaper, thinking it would be a moment that the family might like to have captured in print.

"I thought it was pretty exciting," she said.

Dwane knew nothing of their plans; when he was told, he gruffly said it was a "fool idea," but he couldn't hide the grin on his face as he climbed in the passenger seat of the small plane.

"He was grinning like a Cheshire cat when he came back," Johnson said.

In fact, the experience was such a positive one that Johnson said Beartooth has decided to offer a similar chance to area seniors who may not otherwise have such an opportunity.

"We're going to do a drawing for each month (June through August)," she said. There will be one flight offered in June, two in July and two more in August.

Though still in the initial planning stages, Johnson said the flights will be offered free of charge to area residents age 60 and above.

"People can submit stories to us about why they think this person should be chosen for one of our flights," Johnson said.

Those with the most compelling stories will then have their names placed into a drawing.

Story submissions for the drawing may be sent to:

Beartooth Flight Center

P.O. Box 1196

Detroit Lakes MN 56502

All entries must be received by Friday, June 16. For more information, call 218-847-3233.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454