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Retired Richland physician celebrates 90th birthday by skydiving for 1st time

| Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 7:42 p.m.

Dr. Bill Wharton of Richland, a retired emergency room physician, celebrated his 90th birthday by sky-diving over Minnesota.

“I think it's ironic that I jumped 14,000 feet and the first thing I asked for, upon landing, was my cane,” said the intrepid Wharton, a World War II veteran and resident of St. Barnabas Retirement Village.

Wharton joked about his sudden celebrity at the retirement community after dropping through the clouds while harnessed to a seasoned sky-diving instructor.

“I don't know about all this fuss for falling out of an airplane,” he said.

Wharton, who turned 90 on June 24, sky-dived with three family members on July 7 as part of an adventure booked through Sky Dive the Lakes, based in Winsted, Minn.

“There was no apprehension during the dive. The jumpmaster was so calm and re-assuring.” Wharton said.

“We rolled out of the plane at 14,000 feet, and did a free fall for a full minute, which put us close to 6,000 feet when we popped the chute,” Wharton said. “I saw the skyline of Minneapolis. ... It was a picture-perfect day.

“They told me to raise my legs on landing, and the jumpmaster took the impact,” he said. “It was really a ‘walk-in' landing, very soft. ... I would do it again.”

Wharton took the 120-mph plunge during a family trip to visit son, Bob, and daughter-in-law, Kathy Wharton of Maple Grove, Minn.

Joining Wharton for the six-minute fall were Kathy and grandchildren, William and Emily Wharton.

“They gave us a little lecture before hand, about 45 minutes,” Wharton said. “The hardest part of the whole thing was getting into the plane. I had trouble getting up the steps.”

Waiting on the ground were daughter, Kathy Patrignani, and son-in-law, Vince Patrignani, of Richland, and granddaughters, Victoria and Camille Patrignani.

“The whole experience was very pleasant,” Bill Wharton said.

Kathy Patrignani said her father first mentioned his sky diving wish earlier this year.

“He said, ‘If I live to be 90, I'm going to jump out of an airplane,'” she said.

Wharton said his days as a young Army soldier first inspired his desire to fly through the sky.

“I trained at Fort Benning (Georgia) and the paratroopers' school is there,” said Wharton, who served on the island of Okinawa during World War II.

A graduate of Lycoming College and Temple University School of Medicine, Wharton grew up in Williamsport, Lycoming County.

Before he moved to Richland, Wharton spent most of his life in Erie with his late wife, Joyce, who died in 1997.

In 1996, Wharton retired from the medical department of the locomotive division of the General Electric Company after working 22 years in the emergency department of the former St. Vincent Health Center in Erie.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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