Moorhead woman celebrated 80th birthday free falling from 10,000 feet 

Joanne Reitan, of Moorhead, woke up early on May 20, 2018, seven days before her 80th birthday and said, “Today is the day. I’m going to jump.” 

Joanne Reitan with her feet firmly planted on the ground, months after jumping from a plane to celebrate her 80th birthday. Photo by Britta Trygstad/Britta The Photographer, Fargo.

For years now she had wanted to try skydiving and thought what better time to do it than when she turned 80 years old. She had done the research and found out that there was a one place in Fargo called Skydive Fargo. There she learned there was a thing called tandem jumping, which according to Skydive Fargo involved jumping with an instructor, harnessed together, free falling together, and landing under a single parachute built for two. The parachute is worn by the instructor. Joanne also learned SkyDive Fargo had experience with jumping with older people. She figured she may as well do it now; she wasn’t getting any younger. When she mentioned this skydiving venture to her four children, they didn’t believe her. The grandchildren she discussed it with just shook their heads and said, “Oh sure, grandma.”

Joanne is one of those people you give a second glance. She dresses spectacularly, with color-coordinated outfits down to the shoes, jewelry and accessories. Her fingers are covered with rings, large rings, and you may also see a bracelet or two.  On and near holidays, she always has the appropriate attire to represent the season. She is able to accomplish this amazing wardrobe on a shoestring budget-but that’s another story. The way she looks is only part of her appeal. 

Her quick smile and matter-of-fact personality stem from her simple upbringing. She was born on the farm in 1938 in her parents’ bedroom near Baker, Minnesota (located between Barnesville and Fargo). Her dad was a potato farmer.  Joanne likes to tell the story about how her dad was out delivering a colt when her mom was giving birth to her. She went to  country school three miles from her house and then Barnesville High School. After one year of college she decided it would be fun to try to be an airline stewardess, but she ended up being a travel agent instead. Joanne has done a lot of different jobs, including sales, and in different places, including Whitefish, Montana, and  Laguna Beach, California. She’s always been a hard worker and stated that she has very little tolerance for laziness. In fact, she is still working (because she doesn’t believe in retirement) at the front desk at the Family Service Center in Moorhead, offering information and referrals, as well as employment opportunities for older workers. 

Joanne Reitan, of Moorhead, celebrated her 80th birthday by skydiving. She is shown above on the ground with her tandem jumping partner. Contributed photo from WDAY.

She is passionate about her family, especially her grandkids and great-grandkids. She was married twice and has four children, has eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She is her grandchildren’s cheerleader, more like a friend and confidant.  If you meet with her more than likely she will be receiving a text or phone call from one of them as she remains actively involved in their lives. Even though they are teenagers and young adults, they still maintain daily or at least weekly contact with their grandmother. Grandma is always there to lend them a helping hand, bail them out, or be a role model for adventures.

Joanne is not new to adventures nor airplanes. Her brother was a crop duster, and she had numerous rides in his airplane.  She has hunted deer, bear and elk, as well as raced snowmobiles. Her biggest risk taking, she said with a laugh, were men and her marriages. Joanne stated that she has always liked to try new things. She said, “You have to make every day an adventure. You only have one life to live. Live every day like it is your last.” 

Joanne Reitan, of Moorhead, at about 10,000 feet during her first skydiving experience last May. She decided to jump in celebration of her 80th birthday. Contributed photo from WDAY.

Having done the research and secured her spot with the staff at Skydive Fargo, one week before her birthday, Joanne drove alone to the destination of her great adventure. She had planned it out and decided to jump a week before her birthday to make it a surprise for her family and friends. When she arrived there was prep work she had to do, 20-30 minutes of instruction before the jump. She learned she would step out of the airplane at 10,000 feet above the ground and then experience a five to seven minute canopy free fall.

On that day, Joanne had one more surprise up her sleeve. She contacted WDAY news in Fargo and said, “I’m almost 80 years old, and I am going to jump out of an airplane. Do you want to film me?” Of course, they agreed. Joanne told WDAY that she was not nervous about the jump. She had been waiting for this for years. She gave this advice to WDAY for anyone thinking about taking the plunge, “You only have one life. Live it,” she said. When she was all done all she could say was, “I loved it, I want to do it again.” But instead, she made a call to her four children and eight grandchildren and said, “Watch the news on WDAY tonight” and she didn’t even tell them why.

Joanne lives in Moorhead at Eventide Retirement Communities.

Joanne Reitan of Moorhead comes in for a graceful landing on on May 20, 2108. The jump was in celebration of her 80th birthday. Photo compliments of WDAY

Are you living your life like it was a daring adventure or know somebody else that is? We want to hear from you. In this series,  “Life is a Daring Adventure,” we are looking for stories about those everyday people who do remarkable things. People who overcome obstacles and remain optimistic. Those people who look at life as an adventure (even if it is just for a short time) and embrace what life has to offer. These people live in the present moment, and are passionate about their mission, their work, their families and living life to the fullest. You do not have to be famous to have a extraordinary tale, just an amazing adventure to share. Please contact us; we want to tell these stories to inspire us all.   Contact Deb Trygstad, M.S.,  (218) 770 – 2722, deb@srperspective.com