Last month Ralph and Flo Seely of Mariposa had two major milestones to celebrate - Ralph’s 90th birthday and the couple’s 68th wedding anniversary.
Their good friend and neighbor Therese Williams, who works at the visitor center in Oakhurst, had an idea. The opportunity of a life time for the Seely’s to see one of their favorite places on earth - Yosemite Valley - from 5,000 feet in the air.
Ralph and Flo, 87 in October, liked the idea and thought the scenic flight over the park would be a good way to celebrate his birthday (July 9) and the couple’s wedding anniversary (July 11).
“It was thrilling ... we enjoyed every minute of it,” Ralph said after his one-hour ride in a Cessna 172xp. “You can’t beat it ... I would recommend anyone that would like to have a little adventure and get a little joy from seeing Yosemite Valley and the beautiful high country from the air, to take this flight.”
The well-liked couple were encouraged by friends and neighbors to take the flight, including Therese and her husband Paul.
“Ralph and Flo are the friends and neighbors we all want,” Therese said. “They are a compassionate couple, always waving and smiling. When you knock on their door, you are invited in for a cup of coffee and home made pie. If they haven’t seen us for awhile, they will call to see how we are.”
Airborrn Aviation Services, headquartered at the Mariposa/Yosemite Airport, has been providing the flights over Yosemite since May. The company is owned by Anthony Borreson, who also serves as the airport’s general manager. Borreson was so impressed with Ralph and Flo, he happily provided the flight as a birthday and anniversary present to the couple.
Prior to the flight, 125 friends and relatives attended Ralph’s birthday party at the Mariposa Senior Center. The party was organized by his son and two daughters, Greg, a retired Air Force General now living in Colorado Springs, Diane Ludwig of Atwater, and Denise Seely of Vallejo. They have nine grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
“At first I didn’t want the party because so many of my friends are gone, but it turned out to be the best party of my life,” Ralph said.
A little adventure is nothing new for Ralph and Flo, who, in their mid-40s, took up running and bicycling to get in shape on the advice of Dr. Robert Evans.
In 1989, the couple, along with four friends, made a 3,000 mile, 37-day bicycle trip from Huntington Beach to Annapolis, Maryland. Flo was the only woman in the group. Funds raised from the trip were donated to Mariposa County High School to purchase athletic equipment. At the age of 73 and 70, the couple made the rigorous six hour climb to the top of Half Dome, and just four years ago they participated in a 5K run in Merced.
Ralph has been to the top of Half Dome before, leading his Boy Scout Troop in the late 60s.
2014 Ralph, a World War II veteran, was selected to be part of a Central Valley Honor Flight from Fresno to Washington, D.C., to see the WWII, Korean and Vietnam Memorials, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and Arlington National Cemetery. He was accompanied on the flight with daughter Diane.
“That was something I’ll never forget,” Ralph said. “They treated us like royalty. Something you don’t hear about much was the Women’s Memorial. I was very impressed with that.”
Desire to fly
Ralph has had the desire to fly from the time when he was a young man growing up in Joplin, Missouri. He tried his hardest to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps, but circumstances did not allow that to happen.
“I’m an old frustrated pilot - I always wanted to fly but I just never got in the Air Corps - they told me there just wasn’t any room for me (during WWII),” Ralph remembers. “I wasn’t chosen for flight school, but I was one of just three soldiers selected from 5,000 to become a combat medic.”
He was part of the occupation force in Japan after the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
He remembers moving to Southern California from Joplin, Missouri in 1943 when he was 16, after being offered a job as a riveter by Lockheed Aviation.
“When I took that job, I doubled my pay from 32 cents an hour to 64 cents an hour,” laughed Seely. “I was a riveter on P38 fighter planes four to six hours a day after school ... and I remember telling myself ... one day I was going to fly a P38, but it never happened.”
The couple met while attending a Baptist Church in Southern California with their parents. Ralph and Flo were married in 1948 in Los Angeles after he came home from the service and moved to Mariposa in 1958.
Ralph worked 12 years in Yosemite National Park as foreman of the heavy equipment shop, overseeing the routine maintenance of park service automobiles, pick-up trucks, and snow plows, retiring in 1988. He knows the park well, and could easily pick-out park landmarks from the air.
Flo retired after 10 years with Bank of America and 16 years with the Mariposa County auditor’s staff.
Be happy - not grumpy
Both Ralph and Flo attribute their good health to plenty of exercise, eating lots of vegetables from their garden, and very little red meat.
And the secret to a long marriage?
“The secret is finding a woman that will put up with you,” Ralph said with a smile.” “I found that woman.”
“You stay close by doing a lot of things together,” Flo said. “And having a positive attitude really helps ... be happy ... not grumpy.”
Ralph has never forgotten his desire to fly.
“If I was a little younger, I’d think about taking some flying lessons.”
About Airborrn Aviation Services
Although the Mariposa / Yosemite Airport has always been open (since 1937), the terminal was closed for a couple of years due to a lack of funds. Mariposa County was looking for a company (FBO - fixed based operator) to manage the airport and staff the terminal.
Borreson, owner of Airborrn Aviation Services (AAS), submitted a proposal to become the FBO and manage the airport, and last October, the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with AAS to become the Airport FBO, and the terminal was reopened.
“We provide a variety of services including a flight school, rental cars, and a complimentary courtesy car for pilots to take to town,” Borreson said. “We have a letter of agreement with the FAA to operate scenic flights within a 25 mile radius around Mariposa / Yosemite Airport, which includes portions of the park. We offer gift certificates and some people have purchased scenic tours for friends and relatives.”
The one-hour flight is $199 per person (maximum of three passengers), although Borreson offers a generous discount for residents of Mariposa and Madera counties - $150 for the first person and just $50 each for the additional two passengers.
“It’s a totally different perspective of Yosemite Valley,” Borreson said. “We especially enjoy taking folks that are no longer able to hike the park. They are able to once again view the places they used to hike and visit back in the day.” It's not uncommon to see the emotions expressed with exuberant joy and even a shedding of a tear.”