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Program Makes Dreams Come True

S.C. nonprofit grants man's wish to see final space shuttle launch

John Messer, a Bible-loving Army veteran from Inman, S.C., once considered the idea of space flight utterly absurd. He still remembers a high school classmate from the late 1940s who loved to talk about people going to the moon one day.

See also: When dreams take flight.

John Messer was granted a lifelong wish by The Bucket List Dreams program

Courtesy of John Messer

John Messer.

"We called him Moon Man," says the 79-year-old Messer. "My friend was way ahead of his time. Later on he became a science teacher and before he died last year he went down to Cape Canaveral, Fla., twice to view shuttle launches." Ever since he heard about the launches, Messer says, he's wanted to see one live for himself.

Now, thanks to the Bucket List Dreams program, he soon will. The Senior Centers of Spartanburg County, a South Carolina nonprofit that provides services for older people, recently introduced the program to grant older adults one of their lifelong wishes before they kick the proverbial bucket.

Messer was chosen from among 30 applicants as the first recipient. "I'm looking forward to this," he says. "I always thought about attending a space launch but I never thought it would be possible because I understand it's a gigantic event. People come from all over the world."

The Atlantis liftoff scheduled for July 8, which Messer and his wife, Blanche, will witness, is in fact the final launch for NASA's space shuttle program. About 700,000 people are expected to converge on Cape Canaveral, where they will line the rivers, beaches and roadways to watch the historic event. The Messers will be among the crowd setting up a couple of lawn chairs at KARS Park, a nearby campground owned by NASA. "I hear it's an excellent site to watch the launch," he says. The program will cover the $1,300 trip, including roundtrip flight, hotel and tickets to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

Dreams of all sorts

The Bucket List Dreams program is the brainchild of Sandra K. Owensby, president of Senior Centers for Spartanburg County. She says she first came up with the idea after watching the 2007 comedy The Bucket List, in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play a couple of terminal cancer patients who decide to do everything they always wanted to do in life before their time expires.

"The movie really inspired me, and I thought, we need a program like this for seniors," says Owensby, 64, who has since crossed a few items off her own list, including remarrying after nearly 20 years.

Next: Goal is to grant one or two dreams a year. >>

John Messer with Sandra Owensby, founder of The Bucket List Dreams program that grants lifelong wishes to seniors

Courtesy of Senior Centers of Spartanburg County

Sandra Owensby presents lifelong space enthusiast John Messer a Bucket List Dreams award enabling him to view a NASA space shuttle launch.

Owensby says she is still soliciting sponsors for the program, which she hopes will grant one or two dreams a year. To enter, Spartanburg County applicants must complete a form and write an essay detailing their dream. So far, these have ranged from driving a NASCAR race car to going on a Walmart shopping spree. An advisory committee chooses the winner.

Messer was a good first choice, Owensby says. He retired in 1992 from his job at a textile mill and is very active in the local community. He's a contributing writer at a weekly newspaper, serves as a Red Cross volunteer and, with his wife, delivers mobile meals for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. He also volunteers at a health center and is a registered substitute teacher.

The shuttle launch should be unforgettable. "The actual launch is supposed to be ground-shaking," says Messer, whose only other bucket list item is visiting the Grand Canyon.

"I've been to stock car races where they have 40 800-horsepower cars at the starting line and I've sat in the grandstand and it would actually shake from the force generated by those 40 automobiles," he recalls. "But they say that's child's play compared to when a space shuttle takes off. You can't imagine [what that feels like]. I think it would be real exciting."

And he adds, " However much longer I got, I could say, 'Well, I was there for the very last one.' "

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Craigh Barboza is the editor of