NORTH LOGAN, Utah — Maxine Fisher is not your typical 100-year-old. She surprised family and friends by celebrating her recently acquired centenarian status in style — by going on a helicopter ride.
“It was tremendous,” Maxine said, with a laugh and an ear-to-ear grin. “It was the most thrilling thing. I’ve always wanted to go on a helicopter ride.”
At around 10 a.m. on May 13, a group of about 50 family, neighbors and close friends gathered at the Cache Valley Hospital’s helipad to see her off.
“They went to all this work, just for me,” Maxine said as she leaned in close to one of her sons, Gene Williams.
“That’s right,” he said.
Maxine was all smiles as she was loaded into the front passenger seat of the canary-yellow MountainStar AirCare helicopter.
“We’ll get you right up front. Best seat in the house,” said Joe Nielsen, the pilot, as she was strapped in.
Nielsen, who has been a pilot for 18 years and flown medical helicopters for the past eight, said that most of his passengers are usually having the worst day of their lives, so it was a nice change to have someone so enthusiastic — let alone conscious — during the ride.
“We don’t do very many flights like that, just because our responsibility is as a medical helicopter, so it was great that they allowed her to do that,” Nielsen said. “She’s a young 100 years old, I’ll tell you what. She’s a go-getter.”
Maxine’s once-in-a-century flight lasted about half an hour. The helicopter took off from the hospital and flew north, where it looped around Cherry Peak ski resort, before heading south, past the Logan Latter-day Saint temple, passing over Utah State University’s campus and the surrounding area, where it even hovered above Maxine’s house.
“It was so beautiful and so thrilling,” Maxine said. “I just loved every minute of it.”
She drew smiles from Nielsen and the others aboard throughout the flight as she whooped and hollered with joy with every bank and turn of the helicopter.
“They would tell me how high we were, how fast we were going, they would answer all my questions, it was marvelous,” she said.
After making a loop around Hyrum Reservoir, the helicopter returned to its landing pad where the crowd awaited, smiling and waving.
“We just set down so gently and so smooth, and then they opened the doors and we got out,” Maxine said. “So many people came up and they were just all so friendly and happy and excited, I think they enjoyed it as much as I did.”
Bruce Fisher, one of Maxine’s sons, was among the first of the welcoming party to congratulate her on crossing such a big item off her bucket list.
“I was speechless,” Bruce said. “I mean, who would have ever thought that you’d see a 100-year-old woman climbing into a helicopter — and she was just loving it, she was grinning from ear to ear, she just thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”
Everyone Maxine interacts with is touched by her infectious enthusiasm and positive, cheery attitude.
“She is so full of life and enthusiasm and sees the positive of just everything around her,” Williams said. “That’s what draws people to her — that enthusiasm and that zest for life, that’s just a treasure.”
Maxine, whose husband, Allen Fisher, died in 1981, may still live by herself, but she is most definitely not alone. She is constantly surrounded by a fan club of neighbors and friends.
“I visit her every day,” said Linda Hodges, who lives across the street from Maxine. “We’ve really bonded.”
Five years ago, Hodges started reading books to Maxine, whose sight and hearing is not what it once was.
“I’m not a very good conversationalist, but she kind of wanted me to check on her every day,” Hodges said. “That’s the reason we started reading, and since then, we’ve read about 87 books together.”
Hodges sat right behind Maxine during the helicopter ride.
“I just smiled until my face hurt,” she said. “It was so much fun. I’ve been on helicopters before, but that was the best flight ever.”
It was another one of Maxine’s close friends and neighbors, Bette Geertsen, who made the helicopter ride possible in the first place. About a week before the flight, she attended Maxine’s 100th birthday party.
“When I walked in, I was just joking and said, so Maxine, what would you like to do for your 100th birthday? Do you want to go skydiving like President Bush did for his ninetieth?” Geertsen said.
Maxine said no, she had never really wanted to go skydiving, but she had always wanted to go on a helicopter ride. After Geertsen started asking around, her daughter put her in contact with MountainStar, and the rest is history.
“It was a delightful day,” Geertsen said. “I’m still smiling, today. It was such a fun morning.”
Maxine said she is the first person in her recorded family history to live to 100 years old, and now she hopes she can make it to 200 just so she can have another party. When asked what it felt like to reach such an age and what advice she might have for people, Maxine grinned.
“Don’t get this old,” she said. “But I made it. Everybody said I would and everybody is happy I did. I’m here, and it has been marvelous.”