Virginia Mills was cheered on by friends and family as she took to the skies to celebrate her 105th birthday.
While wearing a shirt that read “It took me 105 years to look this good,” Mills got into the passenger seat of a Cessna 172 plane with Portage County Regional Airport flight instructor Lou Gliozzi. She took flight over Portage County on Sunday morning and looked over important personal landmarks with enthusiasm and delight.
Gliozzi said the plane was hovering at about 4,000 feet. Mills, a resident of Ravenna, chose to look over parts of Kent and at her former home off of Wall Street where she lived with her family for decades. She said she was fascinated with how different and “very tiny” everything looked. In addition to flying the aircraft, Mills landed it as well.
Feeling up for it, Mills also took a second flight with pilot Mark Taylor. She waved enthusiastically to onlookers from the passenger seat of his V-tail Beech Bonanza plane before rising into the air once more.
Mills, a retired teacher from Ravenna, was born on May 19, 1914. Chantai Lipford, a caretaker at the Vista Veranda assisted living facility in Ravenna where Mills lives, said Mills asked to fly in a plane again for her birthday.
Lipford called the Portage County Regional Airport and, with the help of Chris Mars, the president of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter, helped Mills fulfill her birthday wish. Though she had flown commercially before, Sunday marked her first journey in a small plane, said Mills’ eldest daughter, Sandy Verschoot. Prior to that, Mills had flown just a few years ago to visit her sister in Florida.
“She’s extremely grateful and surprised that there’s so many people that love her, but she’s such a great woman,” Lipford said. “She’s such an amazing person and the testimonies show that she has been a big part of the community.”
According to friends and family, Mills was born in Newton Falls and has lived in Ravenna for about 60 years. She and her late husband, Frank Mills, were avid travelers, Verschoot said. They visited all 50 states and traveled to Europe on more than one occasion to both see Frank’s family in England and vacation.
Kathi Horton, the wife of one of Frank Mills’ cousins, said the four of them traveled together often because her husband was one of Frank’s only relatives in the U.S. She said she fondly remembers trips to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and Mackinac Island in Michigan. Mills said she traveled so much it was hard to pick a singular favorite journey.
Melissa Hilbrunner, one of Mills’ granddaughters, works as an intervention specialist at Brown Middle School, the same school Mills worked at before she retired. Mills made a career as an English and French teacher and had many notable students, like Portage County Sheriff David Doak and Ravenna Mayor Frank Seman. For as old as she is, Hilbrunner said, her grandmother has a remarkable memory of her students.
Lipford said Mills owes her energy and enthusiasm to a good diet and exercise. She said Mills makes it a point to exercise daily and walk instead of using a wheelchair. She does, however, also love sweets, especially Nutter Butters.
At the end of her first flight, Gliozzi presented Mills with a hat signed by him and Taylor as well as a shirt and a flight logbook to commemorate her birthday and flight.
Reporter Kaitlyn McGarvey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-298-1127