In the 1930s, Jessie Eckhart was the middle child in a non-traditional Lancaster family for that era. Her parents raised her and her sisters to participate in activities generally reserved for young men at the time, namely piloting airplanes and hunting.
What’s even more surprising, though, is that Jessie, who moved to Brethren Village in January, continues to enjoy those two activities at age 93. As Jessie tells her story, she gives the impression that she doesn’t find it so unusual. After all, it’s the only life she has known.
Her father, Jesse Jones, was an aviator, flight instructor and manager of the Lancaster Municipal Airport, who insisted that his three daughters—Helen, Jessie and Carolyn—learn to fly, too. In fact, Jessie recalls, “We had to fly solo before we could get our driver’s license.”
“Mother (Reba) was the ground coordinator,” she remembers, saying her mother didn’t like to fly much, so she helped manage the airport as she raised her daughters. Jessie smiles, saying, “Dad was a wonderful pilot, but Mother was a better driver.”
Though Jessie started college at Penn State, she returned home during her freshman year when World War II broke out. She began flying independently and soon was teaching Navy cadets how to fly and ferrying planes around the country. She never returned to school, saying, “I decided I would rather be a pilot than an art teacher.” By the time she was 23, Jessie was newly wed to Howard Eckhart, a World War II veteran, student at Franklin and Marshall College and future oral surgeon in Lancaster.
As “a stay-at-home, chase-the-boys mother,” Jessie continued to fly as a hobby, fitting it into her busy family life as best she could. Howard was also a pilot, and together they flew through most of the continental United States. With more free time once her sons were grown, Jessie especially enjoyed serving as her dad’s flying companion in his later years. Today, Jessie has been flying for 77 years, though she now flies with son Howard as her companion. Following family tradition, her three sons all learned to fly, too.
The other lifelong skill that she learned from her dad is hunting. Jessie has hunted from the time she was a teenager—first, small game with a shotgun, and later, deer with a crossbow. Her love of hunting is obvious, as she describes an upcoming bow hunting trip to Michigan with her twin sons, David and Michael. Why Michigan? Jessie explains that the deer there are “special deer—they’re bigger.” Of the two deer she has bagged, she got one with her crossbow after age 90.
This grandmother of six is also an accomplished oil painter, whose artwork is visible throughout her new senior residential living apartment in Fieldcrest. Several of her paintings feature airplanes—no surprise there.
She wants everyone to know she lives “in the best apartment at Brethren Village—it’s convenient, my car is parked right outside, and everyone is so nice.” Plus, Jessie adds, “We have great restaurants here!” She couldn’t be happier with the retirement living options available to her at the Village.
A bonus for Jessie has been her sister Carolyn’s move to Brethren Village in March. Carolyn, a grandmother and retired bank employee, lived in Florida for much of her adult life, but Jessie is glad she returned to Pennsylvania for her retirement.
So now, most of the time, Jessie is content to keep her feet on solid ground at our retirement community, often visiting with Carolyn, who also lives in Fieldcrest. In Jessie’s mind, however, she might be walking through the woods in search of game or soaring into the clouds to her heart’s content.