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Salem senior Loughry could be world's oldest female scuba diver

Mary Pickels
| Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, 10:06 p.m.
Jean Loughry stands for a portrait in her Greensburg home on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. Loughry has circumnavigated the world and is currently working on gaining the title of oldest female scuba diver in the world after completing 627 dives, the most recent at the age of 85.
Alexandria Polanosky | Trib Total Media
Jean Loughry stands for a portrait in her Greensburg home on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. Loughry has circumnavigated the world and is currently working on gaining the title of oldest female scuba diver in the world after completing 627 dives, the most recent at the age of 85.

Jean Loughry does not sit still for long.

At 85, the Salem resident still operates her home business, Draperies by Jean.

Baskets outside her back door brim with vegetables from her garden.

She bakes dozens of pies during fish fry season for her church, Community United Methodist in Harrison City.

Kendra Simpson, director of church food ministries, said Loughry has contributed the desserts for at least a dozen years.

“She just quietly does it. She's a true servant,” Simpson said.

Loughry has volunteered with the Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society and is a life member and former EMT with Penn Township Rescue 6.

And she's awaiting word from Guinness World Records on her quest to be named the oldest female scuba diver.

“My bucket list was to dive after 85. I don't know if I ever will again. But I probably will,” Loughry said.

Loughry made her 626th dive in March in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where she became certified 35 years ago.

Number 627 was on May 19, when she made her second dive at Disney World's Epcot DiveQuest. Certified divers pay a fee to plunge into the salt water aquarium and swim with more than 6,000 sea creatures.

That dive led fellow West Penn Scuba Divers member Dave Barron to search the Internet for a female scuba diver older than 85. Finding none, he encouraged Loughry to contact Guinness.

“We were at a (scuba club) meeting. Our club all kind of chimed in, too,” said Barron, 62, of Greensburg.

“To me, she's a role model for aging gracefully and not letting age interfere with your heart's desire. I think she's an inspiration,” he said.

Guinness spokeswoman Kristen Ott confirmed Loughry's application.

“We are currently awaiting evidence for review,” she said.

Loughry's interest was sparked when her son, Dan Loughry, learned to dive.

“When your kids get older, you lose them. I thought we would have something in common. And it worked,” she said.

Soon after, at the age of 50, she became a founding member of the West Penn Scuba Divers.

Since then, she's strapped on her body suit, fins, air tank and other gear and explored oceans around the globe.

“I circumnavigated the world. I've been to 52 countries and went diving in most of them,” she said.

Several other family members also scuba dive; her husband, the late Harry Loughry, was an exception.

“He said water was for drinking and washing only,” she quipped.

He enjoyed traveling, and the two of them visited numerous international and domestic locales.

Photographs she's shot, from the Egyptian Pyramids to sharks in the Bahamas to a rhinoceros in Africa, line one wall in her home.

Some have won photo contests and been published in airline magazines, she said.

Loughry may have come by her sense of adventure and work ethic from her father, Elmer Ashbaugh.

A mechanic during the week, he also was a pilot and had a “little airport” at the family's Penn Township home, Loughry said. He offered flying lessons and rides to the public on weekends.

“Dad always gave us jobs, not money. I had the job of pumping gas into the planes. He paid me two cents a gallon to pump,” she said.

“When we were learning to drive, he would tell us not to be afraid to go anywhere we wanted to go. He would say, ‘If you get lost, call me and I'll come get you,'” she said.

A wall map in her home is marked with flags and lined with patches from countries she has visited and dove in, including Costa Rica, Fiji, the Galapagos, Honduras, Cayman Islands and Guam.

A particularly interesting dive has been her deepest, at 133 feet in the Pacific Ocean at Truk Lagoon to see the remnants of Japanese warships, sunk by the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Asked if her family ever expressed concern about continuing to dive at her age, Loughry shrugged and smiled.

“They don't say too much about it. They know it doesn't matter. It's been fun,” she said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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