A leap of faith

What made Joseph “Rick” Rechenmacher ’49 jump out of a plane at age 80? Inspired by a president, naturally.

A leap of faith

When asked what surprised him most about his recent skydiving trip, 80-year-old Joseph “Rick” Rechenmacher ’49 quipped, “That I did it!”

“Since I am a staunch Democrat, I hate to admit that my jump was influenced by George H. W. Bush’s 80th birthday jump in 2004,” explains Rechenmacher. Through Hollister-based Adventure Center Skydiving, Rechenmacher was teamed with Steve Rafferty, and the two did a tandem jump from 15,000 feet on July 4, 2005. He says his family, which includes his wife, Esther, 10 children, 30 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, was very supportive of his plans. Eighteen family members and friends were on the ground to welcome him down from the sky.

An ex-pilot who was a member of the Navy Air Corps during World War II, Rechenmacher says the height did not bother him, but he was surprised by the pressure. “You are free falling for the first nine thousand feet,” he explains, “and you reach a velocity of 120 miles per hour…I could hardly breathe.” But once the parachute was deployed, he says it was like “sitting in a lawn chair. It is just gorgeous. You have no sensation of falling, and it is so quiet.”

After graduating from SCU, Rechenmacher began his career as a civil engineer, and he worked in that field until 2005. In a career spanning more than half a century, he subdivided a lot of land, as well as designed drainage, sewerage, and water systems. “I didn’t design huge buildings or dams,” he explains. “I just did the basic engineering work that the community needs to function properly.”

Rechenmacher says there are other things he’d like to see accomplished in his lifetime. “First of all, I would like to finish the tree house I started in the huge elm tree I planted in our backyard 40 years ago,” he says. “I was stopped by a minor heart attack two years ago.” He also says he wants to live to see publicly sponsored elections, universal health care, an energy-independent United States, and elected officials who “actually govern according to the Christian ethics taught at SCU.”

— Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly ’93 is contributing editor of Santa Clara Magazine.

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