Human vs. Machine

Category: Community Life

A group of adventurous team members at Deerfield Retirement Community in Des Moines, Iowa, recently took on the extraordinary challenge of tugging an 80,000-pound airplane. This was all part of Special Olympics Iowa’s annual Plane Pull fundraising event, which pit teams of up to 10 against each other to see who can pull a Delta CRJ-900 across 12 feet in the shortest amount of time. Funds raised go toward athletic training and competitions for people with intellectual disabilities.

“Philanthropy and community outreach hold a special place in the hearts of our residents and team members,” said Jeanne Altman, Deerfield’s director of lifestyle, who sparked the idea of participating in the Plane Pull. “There was so much enthusiasm for this cause. Getting to find out whether our team could successfully pull the aircraft was just the icing on the cake.”

The Deerfield team went by the name “Hangover Hattie,” an ode to one of its honorary members, 96-year-old resident Cy Kirk. The name derived from the plane Kirk flew as a pilot during World War II. Kirk attended the Plane Pull with fellow resident Art Cross. Cross, 94, is also an honorary Hangover Hattie member and, coincidentally, a former World War II pilot. Both men expressed unequivocal support for the cause.

“It was the first time I’d ever heard about the event, but I was very impressed,” said Kirk. “It was a fun day and we did some good. Making a difference is the most important thing.”

With such fervor behind it, Hangover Hattie successfully crossed the 12-foot mark. Participants and spectators alike were ecstatic. Even more gratifying was knowing the team had played a special role in helping Special Olympics Iowa raise $85,000 at the event. A substantial portion of this was raised through the $500 participation fee contributed by each team.

“The plane weighs as much as a fully loaded tractor trailer, so we were worried that we were going to fail at first,” explained Bob Wirtz, director of community services at Deerfield and Hangover Hattie member. “Many Deerfield residents showed up to cheer us on and support Special Olympics Iowa. It was a heartwarming experience and we’re hoping to participate again next year.”

James Robinson, Deerfield’s executive director, commended the effort.

“I’m humbled to work among team members and residents who have such a high regard for everyone’s well-being,” he said. “Service to others is truly at the heart of who they are as people, who we are as a retirement community, and it’s a core value of our home office.”

[In photo: (left to right) Art Cross, Cy Kirk and their fellow Hangover Hattie team members at the 2018 Special Olympics Iowa Plane Pull.]