The organization was started 12 years ago by former U.S. Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom. Since then, thousands of older Americans have had a chance to experience a dream come true. Tom Wagenlander, executive director of the program, says it provides, “opportunities that empower our recipients to rediscover their purpose and passions in life.”
Now, as a charitable affiliate of AARP, Wish of a Lifetime “will help renew a sense of purpose and belonging in the older adults this program serves,” says AARP board chair Annette Franqui.
Here are stories from some past participants in the program.
Marguerite Miller, 92
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
When the German army invaded France in 1940, Miller was a 12-year-old girl, soon to be separated from her father, who was imprisoned by the Nazis. She and her mother helped hide Allied pilots downed over France. She later met and married a man whose life was saved when he parachuted to safety after he was shot down during the war. Those experiences sparked her lifelong aspiration to skydive, which Wish of a Lifetime helped her fulfill. “It was a wonderful feeling,” she says, “to be flying like a bird.”
Bertha Nunn, 87
Nunn had always dreamed of being an actress. Those dreams were set aside as she raised a family, including two children and six grandsons. But through Wish of a Lifetime, Nunn got to appear in a television commercial for Crest toothpaste. In the spot, which aired last December, she shares a cookie with Santa, telling him, “Well, my friend, I’m a night owl.” Nunn says she was “so thankful” for the chance, and would like others have the same. “When we get up in age, we’re just thrown away,” she says. “But this is something we can do up in our 80s.”
Salvatore Reale, 90
Growing up in the Bronx, Reale has memories dating to 1936 of watching the New York Yankees with his father. He worked as a city firefighter for 21 years, then retired to Florida. But he never lost his love for the Yankees. His wish: To revisit New York City and see a Yankees game. Wish of a Lifetime helped Reale return to his old fire station, Ladder 136, and then spend a day at the park. He even threw out the first pitch at the game. “I always wanted to be a catcher for the Yankees,” Reale says. “When I was at home plate, I asked the umpire if he could move —that it would fulfill my lifetime wish to stand behind home plate. He did.”
Cpl. Zachary Orr/DVIDS (The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)
Hugh McNaughton, 94
Altamonte Springs, Florida
It was Christmas Day 1944, and 18-year-old McNaughton was one of 12 crew members on a PBM-5 Mariner flying boat that crashed while landing after a routine patrol in the Pacific Theater of World War II. McNaughton was one of six survivors. He recovered from his injuries in Oahu, Hawaii. McNaughton always wanted to return, and Wish of a Lifetime gave him that chance. “It was quite emotional,” he says, as he recalled throwing a wreath into the water to commemorate his fallen crew members. “It meant a lot to be back there.”