Weather Hampers Mans Dying Wish

Friday, February 9th 2007, 9:05 pm
By: News On 6

The Gatesway foundation is known for two things, its annual balloon festival and helping those with disabilities. The organization reached out to a terminally ill Muskogee man on Friday. News on 6 reporter Ashli Sims reports Gatesway used its balloon connections to help a man, who doesn't have a lot of time left.

The Hartpence's drove from Oklahoma City to Muskogee to meet Robert Howard. He seems like a quiet guy, but underneath there's a dose of daredevil.

"I always told her that I wanted to parachute out of an airplane, or go for a hot air balloon ride,” said Howard. “And I couldn't get nobody to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with me, so I decided I'd try for a hot air ride."

It's the kind of trip Robert's always wanted to take, but he's been sick.

“I have cirrhosis of the liver, it’s a liver disease, they can't stop it," he said.

The staff at Muskogee Hometown Hospice called on the Gatesway Foundation to make Robert's last wish come true. Gatesway got in touch with the Hartpence's, who own the Centennial balloon, and they agreed to help.

"It was real exciting, I didn't expect all this, though,” Howard said. “It was a little bit more than I expected but I really do appreciate them doing it for me."

Robert says he's not even nervous about the height.

“Well I used to climb cell phone towers so heights don’t bother me that much,” he said. “Just something to just get up there and make me feel free."

But the balloon proved to be unruly, and high winds endangered a special flight for a special man. The Hartpence's got the balloon all laid out, but in the end the weather just wouldn't cooperate, but they still tried to do something to light up Robert's day. Joe Hartpence made Robert a junior pilot and put him in charge of the burner.

“Feel like I'm carrying the Olympic torch,” Howard said.

Even though his wish didn't quite come true, Robert kept his spirits high.

“I'm happy that everybody tried so hard. I think its special even just to be here," he said.

Joe and Sherri Hartpence, the couple who owns the Centennial Balloon, say they're willing to try again if weather conditions improve. And the folks at Gatesway say Robert is welcome at the festival this summer in Claremore.