By Pamela O'Brien
Monterey Bay Chapter
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN PILOTS / 99 NEWS
So how does a woman who has led a full, creative and wonderful life celebrate her 80th birthday? Why, she jumps out of a perfectly good airplane with a man strapped to her back! At least that's what Geneva Cranford did this June. With friends and family cheering her on, she donned a parachute, climbed into the jump plane and headed for the sky.
She jumped at 15,000 feet, free-falling until the chute opened at 10,000 feet. Was it what she expected? “I was amazed at how much time there was to look around during the free-fall. It’s like swimming, only you don't have the pressure of the water. It would be a lot of fun to be a skydiver in a group.”
“This is something I’ve had in my mind since I was a little girl,” said Geneva. She has been fascinated since she was about five years old and saw a woman dive from an airplane at the state fair in Oklahoma City. She said it has taken about 74 years to fulfill her skydiving dream, mainly because she didn’t want to worry other people in her life, particularly her mother, Tessie Edwards, who died in 1995, and her husband, Douglas, who died in 2000.
An avid pilot for most of his life, Douglas had asked her to take flying lessons so she would understand his passion for flying, and guess what? She fell in love with flight!
She earned her pilot license in 1961 at the Salinas Airport and took lessons for a long time prior to announcing her activities to her mother to avoid unnecessary worry. However, the rest of her family was so enthusiastic about flying that her son, Donald, also learned to fly at about the same time.
Geneva loved to air race. She was the copilot in the 1966 Powder Puff Derby with Helen Shropshire in Helen’s Comanche 180. She also flew as co-pilot with Jo Dieser in the final Powder Puff Derby race in 1976 and participated in several other race starts. She enjoyed being a part of these events and felt that they were wonderful experiences, not only in flying but meeting other Ninety-Nines from around the world.
A charter member of the Monterey Bay 99s, Geneva has held many offices, including Chapter Chairman and received the pilot of the year award in 1974 and 1982.
In 1969, Yosemite National Park named a peak after Amelia Earhart. To commemorate this honor and the 50th anniversary of Amelia’s last flight, Geneva organized a climb to the top of the Amelia Earhart Peak in 1987 with a group of 99s. A time capsule was inserted at the top with the history of The Ninety-Nines enclosed.
Geneva’s creativity has taken many forms — from designing an early 99s’ sales booth to organizing section meetings to fashion design, and so much more. Over the years she has given us all a visual feast to enjoy and did so again on her jump — she designed and created a gold lamé jumpsuit to wear over her leopard-printed leotard especially for the occasion.
“She likes to be involved in things, not just talk about them,” said Don Cranford, one of her sons. “She’s an action-type person.” She went from her jump right into a friend’s Cessna for her first flight in three years — leopard leotard and all.
Writer’s Note: When I called Geneva to interview her for this article, she mentioned that she had gotten up at 2 a.m. to get ready for the crew of the Today Show who was filming an interview at her house about her skydiving. I thought that she was probably a little tired and wasn’t surprised when she said that she had to go. Who wouldn’t be tired after all this? So I sympathetically said something about letting her off the phone, whereupon she said, “I’m running a little late and need to get to my ballroom dancing lesson in Monterey.”
|“When I think of
something, I’m going
to do it.”
— Geneva Cranford