DECATUR — A trip through the skies was the prize for an eighth-grader from St. Patrick School.
A journey that included fundraising for the Nelson Park 9/11 Memorial, a raffle and a winning essay about the tragic event 16 years ago all culminated Monday afternoon at the Decatur Airport as Isabella Ledesma was able to get a bird’s-eye view of the Decatur area thanks to a flight in a vintage Stearman biplane.
“It was astonishing to me, I cannot even explain it,” she said shortly after landing from her nearly 30-minute trip in the air.
The opportunity for such a breathtaking view started last year when St. Patrick School began raising money to help build the memorial that was unveiled Monday evening on the Nelson Park shoreline. St. Patrick Principal Jan Sweet learned the school could contribute for the chance to win a ticket for the free flight.
When the school won the ticket, Sweet said they decided to hold an essay contest to determine which student would earn the ride, with students given a broad assignment to write their thoughts about 9/11.
From there, Ledesma won the chance to fly in the biplane belonging to Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization established and dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans.
It just so happens that Ledesma was not a stranger to the 9/11 Memorial or one of its main champions, Lauren Axe.
Axe, the the 9/11 memorial's liaison, said she remembers Ledesma doing a bake sale last fall and donating all of the proceeds toward the construction of the memorial. The story moved Axe so much that she had planned to include Ledesma’s story into the time capsule done in conjunction with the memorial’s unveiling.
So when Axe heard that Ledesma had won the chance to ride in the biplane, she said it was almost too perfect an ending to the story.
“It’s like serendipity, really,” Axe said. “We were already wanting her story for the time capsule, and then to find out the essay winner was the same Isabella. It’s just so great.”
Joined by a number of her classmates who came to see her take off, Ledesma flew alongside Darryl Fisher, pilot and president of the foundation. The Carson City, Nevada, organization more commonly flies seniors and veterans, but Fisher said he was glad to have Ledesma as the youngest person he ever had the chance to fly.
“It was really special knowing what she did to help support the effort to building the monument,” Fisher said, adding he has fallen in love with the city of Decatur and getting the chance to help support the effort to construct the memorial.
Though she would not be born until three years after 9/11, Ledesma said she has become invested in learning more about the events of that day, wanting to do whatever she can to raise awareness for those affected and to make sure an important part of history is never forgotten.
“It’s so important because families lost people they loved, innocent people died, it was just horrible,” she said.