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Birthday girl, 90, has her head in the clouds

Scott French (left) and Kevin Reynolds of Skydive Orange congratulate Evelyn Marshall after she skydived on her 90th birthday at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton on Monday, June 9, 2014. PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Scott French (left) and Kevin Reynolds of Skydive Orange congratulate Evelyn Marshall after she skydived on her 90th birthday at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton on Monday, June 9, 2014. PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Evelyn Marshall celebrated her 90th birthday the same way she rang in her 70th and 80th—by jumping out of an airplane.

The Manassas woman boarded a plane at Skydive Orange on Monday morning with three of her grandsons and flew to the Flying Circus in Bealeton. Under skies that were filled with puffy white and occasionally gray clouds, Marshall couldn’t see the ground below her, at first.

Once she spotted the familiar landscape, she didn’t think there were many people there to see her.

After she landed on her rear end, with her feet stuck out in front of her, she noticed her audience.

First came the swarm of cameras that included regional media and a television crew from Washington. Then, John King, a pilot and fixture at the southern Fauquier County circus, opened the gates so other members of the crowd could come forward and hug Marshall.

The center of attention wondered how she must look. She fluffed up hair that had been smushed by the mandatory headgear she wore, then smiled.

“I feel like a celebrity,” she chirped.

“You ARE a celebrity,” said a voice from the crowd.

Evelyn Marshall gets hugs from some of the approximately 100 people who gathered at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton.

Evelyn Marshall gets hugs from some of the approximately 100 people who gathered at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton.

A TV reporter asked Marshall if she thought she inspired people, and the great-grandmother answered, “I hope so.”

“She inspires me, absolutely,” said Kevin Reynolds, the Skydive Orange instructor who jumped with Marshall. “She’s fantastic.”

Reynolds said Marshall was the oldest person he’d ever jumped with, but that she did as well—if not better—than those a fraction of her age. That included a 25-year-old professional athlete he did the tandem jump with the day before, Reynolds said.

Many in the audience, which included more than 100 friends and relatives, were considerably younger than the woman in the spotlight.

No one seemed surprised that she was still so spunky.

“She’s got a great attitude about life,” said Charles Winstead, her son-in-law from Georgia. “She could walk you and I both into the ground.”

Marshall seemingly hasn’t changed much since 1994 or 2004, when The Free Lance–Star published stories on her earlier birthday jumps.

Because she felt so good on the eve of her 90th, she again decided to start the birthday party more than 2 miles off the ground.

“I am great, really,” she said during a phone interview two weeks ago.

Marshall has spent a lifetime in the world of aviation, so it’s only natural that she marks the milestones in her element.

She and her late husband, Frank, ran several airports in Manassas and Winchester. Marshall still works three days per week for Dulles Aviation, where she schedules planes, reserves rental cars and arranges catering.

Her partner is Charlie Kulp, the retired pilot known for his “flying farmer” routine at the circus. She took flying lessons and flew about 100 hours in his plane.

Marshall stays on her feet most days at work, and she also does the accounting for her son’s business.

She has slightly high blood pressure, controlled by medication, but no complaints from aches or pains.

“No arthritis,” Marshall said. “My knees don’t hurt, my back doesn’t hurt, I have my original knees and hips. I did break down and get hearing aids a few months ago, but I don’t wear them around the house,” she said.

Guests of Evelyn Marshall's  90th birthday party watch as she completes a birthday skydive at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton.

Guests of Evelyn Marshall’s 90th birthday party watch as she completes a birthday skydive at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton.

Then she added: “That’s pretty much it. Nobody tells me what to do.”

Would anybody dare?

After she jumped, Marshall showed off the striped socks she wore, similar to those worn by the elder President George Bush when he went skydiving. She fielded questions from reporters as well as church friends, fellow aviation fans and family from up and down the East Coast and as far west as Texas.

Both sons were there, along with the family of her two daughters who have passed away. Six of her eight grandchildren and five of her eight great-grandchildren attended the event, which morphed into a family reunion.

Her granddaughter, Jennifer Winstead, tried to usher Marshall into the shade, but the 90-year-old said she was fine—except for clogged ears. She continued to stand in the hot sun until King brought out a convertible, painted in patriotic colors, and drove her around the grounds.

Rolandos Lazaris, the Federal Aviation Administration manager for the Flying Circus, was there to witness the event, but not for official reasons.

“This is personal,” he said.

Marshall gave him his first job, as a mechanic making $3.50 per hour. He said it meant a lot to him to see her take the plunge from almost 14,000 feet up.

“She is a wonderful lady,” Lazaris said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, 10 years from now, we’re all here, doing this again.”

Marshall said that would be fine by her.

In the meantime, great-grandson Anthony DeCesare savored the moment.

He’s 10, and he told plenty of people on the trip from Georgia to Bealeton what his great-grandmother was doing.

“Have you ever seen a 90-year-old jump out of an airplane?” he asked those he met along the way.

When the person responded with a no—because everyone had the same answer—he added: “That’s why it’s such a big dang deal.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

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