72 years and a cloud of smoke

Appleton Post Crescent

February 1951

Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Wundrow of Rt 4 Appleton, Wisconsin, announced the birth of their first born son at 2:25 AM on February 25th at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton. The baby boy named Kenneth, apparently by the attending nurse, weighed in at 8lbs 8 oz and joined the family previously ruled over by two earlier sisters, Karen, aka Peaches, and Kathleen, aka Kay also both named by same said nurse. Kenneth will now attempt to take his place on the family farm and attempt to survive the bossy nature of his two siblings.

As time passed, Ken, Kenny to his parents and absolutely no one else, was joined by another brother, Karl. Ken and Karl were to become fast friends and thick as thieves. There was no challenge that once thrown at one brother by the other wasn’t met by the other, no matter how great the danger. In time, mom and dad Wundrow would add two more brothers, apparently just to keep the two sisters in check.

Kenny would eventually become Ken, enter high school, and graduate summa cum average. Woodstock was in full swing that summer as was the Vietnam War. Ken wanted UW Madison, mom and dad, wanted Fox Valley Tech. A compromise was struck and Ken was off to Wisconsin State College at Oshkosh, later UW Oshkosh. He entered as a science major, apparently aiming to be a scientist, and left as a math teacher with a degree in education. Seems the counselor thought he’d make a better teacher than a scientist. That, or the fact that scientists didn’t get draft deferment status.

Loyal Middle School (Loyal, Wisconsin) needed an interim math teacher and four years later, Oregon School District (Oregon, Wisconsin) did as well. Twenty-five years later and an illustrious career in education coming to a close, Kenneth Wundrow, EA. sold his blossoming tax business to the highest bidder, left teaching, and entered what would be a tax and financial planning career.

Now entering his sixth year of semi-retirement, and because a reasonable number of people still feel he has a little bit of wisdom left to share, volunteers as a business mentor. When able to say no, he travels the “world” with his wife of forty-two years, Deb.

And that’s it. seventy-two years summed up in two or three paragraphs. Some where along the line I have grown a little over four feet and gained roughly 180 pounds. I’ve added two beautiful, incredibly bright daughters to this world (Bailey and Kathryn), inherited two well appreciated son-in-laws (John and Eli) and at last count, two incredibly sharp grandchildren (Jackson and Adela) with a future draft pick to be named in June.

Life IS good and on this day each year, I want to thank the countless number of friends who wish me happy birthday, support me in my endeavors, and generally make living so worth well. Age is just a number and whether or not I like mine being such a big one, I will savor all the years that have passed and wisely spend all the ones that remain.

My Bucket List of Thrills

I long ago created a list in my mind of the five daring feats I wanted to complete in my lifetime. They were in no particular order at the time, to jump out of a plane, parasail, paraglide, bungee jump, and zip line. The first one that I accomplished was to jump out of a plane. I had a friend in the Air Force and while visiting him in North Carolina, he informed me that he had begun a skydiving school and wanted to take me up. The following day, I mustered up my courage, listened to the lesson, practice jumped off a picnic table (not sure that was convincing), and the next morning I was crowded into a plane full of skydivers. Back then, they were not doing tandem, so I would be jumping alone and being a beginner, would come out of the plane at 10,000 feet on a tether. The tether being what would pull my chute at the end of a 200-foot freefall. I steeled my courage as I approached the open door of the plane and then summoned my innards to stay put. I not only managed to exit the plane, there had been some doubt, but I thoroughly enjoyed the rush and then the reassuring opening of my chute and the reasonably gentle ride to the ground. Number one was off my list.

Parasailing came next. I had arranged a family trip with my wife and two young daughters to Mexico. On day two of our trip, the parasail boat pulled up to our beach. The girls were definitely game, my wife was not, but after a brief negotiation, more so with my wife than the boat driver, we were harnessed up and getting ready to be launched from the back of the boat. My daughters were first and went tandem. Watching from the back of the boat I caught myself wondering why I had had to wait so long to do this. They sailed for some time and eventually were winched back in and then it was my turn. They hooked me in and away I went. Some seventy feet in the air, I felt an urge to show off for my daughters. I would pull on the harness and swoop from one side and then back to the other. It was on one of these graceful swoops that I looked down at my harness and suddenly realized that I was hooked to the tow rope, not with a locking carabiner, but rather a simple S-Hook. I decided it might be time to sit still, very still. Again, I survived, and the experience was well worth the time and the money. Number two had been completed.

It would be another thirteen years before I got a chance for my next bucket list feat. My older daughter and I were in Columbia visiting my younger daughter who was spending the summer in an internship for study abroad. We had barely settled in when my younger daughter informed us that she had arranged a paraglide adventure for later in the week. Paragliding, unlike parasailing, is done without any connection to the ground. It is in actuality, flying sans an engine. We would at least be flying tandem with an experienced pilot, interpretation here, a thrill junkie. Our glide would take off from the edge of a three-thousand-foot cliff, ten-thousand feet up a mountain. Our lesson, all five minutes of it, consisted of three commands that our non-English speaking pilot had learned, possibly sometime during the five-minute lesson. The first command was “walk”, the second was “run”, and the third was “sit”. I was ready, or so said my daughter, and the pilot said “walk”. So I walked, waiting for the next command, to run, all the while noticing that we were terribly close to the edge. “SIT” screamed the pilot. My mind, already racing, was asking what the heck happened to “run”. Fortunately for both of us, the pilot was so forceful in his command, I sat! And in that instant, we were airborne. For the next fifteen minutes we literally soared like a bird. We would turn on edge and drop several hundred feet only to turn again and gracefully sail upward on the updrafts coming from the valley below. There are no words to describe the sensation. The flight ended far too soon. As I checked off number three, I promised myself I would find some way to do this again. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, but then I’m not done yet.

This morning, as I awoke to our third day on the Island of Kauai in Hawaii, I was greeted by Larry, our traveling guru, with “Do you want to go zip lining? There is an opening if we get there in the next ten minutes.” My response was immediate, “Of Course!” or some slightly more colorful version of that. We got to the Koloa Zip Line Company in time to join our group of fellow zip liners. We would be doing eight different zip lines ranging in length from 400 feet to the last one at 2,600 feet, half a mile. We were told that on the last zip line, we would hit a speed of 54 miles per hour. I was stoked (apologies for the obvious reference to my age). I was also nervous, but that soon turned to excitement. With each zip line accomplished, confidence grew. Where there was hesitation on the take off for the first zip line, it became wanting to go before the guide was even ready to let you go on the remaining lines. Each line offered the chance to try a different technique. Though I balked on the first chance to go superman (on your stomach, arms outstretched in flying mode), the next chance up, I agreed, got strapped in, and took off. Our guides were incredible, they kept us safe, challenged us to try new techniques, and bonded us as a group. As with paragliding, it ended all too soon. I had flown over a valley, a gorge, and canopies of trees. I had a blast. Number four, done.

I still have number five out there. My wife says, “And that’s where it will stay!”, but we will see. I have climbed a mountain, made it to the top of Half Dome, albeit via the trail and cables, and have so far accomplished four out of the five thrill feats I decided on so long ago. Each one of these had an element of fear that I needed to deal with, but I have found that by spending less time thinking about the what ifs and more time thinking about the sense of accomplishment and the ultimate reward of the experience, the easier it is to take that first step; the first step out of the plane, the first step off the boat, the first step off the cliff, or the first drop onto the zip line. In every case, the rest was a piece of cake! A delicious, exciting, and rewarding piece of cake.