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Published: Sunday, 7/4/2004

Milestone birthdays call for special celebrations

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Donald Munkacy picked up this Masai ceremonial mask on a trip to east Africa to celebrate his 40th birthday. Donald Munkacy picked up this Masai ceremonial mask on a trip to east Africa to celebrate his 40th birthday.
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Former President George H.W. Bush may have had a party to celebrate his recent 80th birthday, but he also marked the occasion by jumping out of a plane. Twice.

"Just because you're 80 years old, it doesn't mean you're out of it," he told the Associated Press. "At 80 years old, you've still got a life."

His jumps were among the more unusual ways to mark a milestone birthday. Beyond Mr. Bush, who also skydived when he turned 75, we found more high spirits in the form of fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who turns 90 this September. For his 40th, he swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge underwater. Twenty years later, while handcuffed and shackled, he towed a boat laden with 1,000 pounds of sand from Alcatraz to Fisherman s Wharf in San Francisco.

Our multi-cultural nation has plenty of milestones to choose from. Jewish teens have a bar or bat mitzvah at 13 to mark their passage to adulthood. Many girls of Mexican heritage have a quinceanera, an elaborate party for their 15th birthdays. Sweet 16 is made more special because it s also the year most teens become eligible to get a driver s license. The 18th birthday grants legal adulthood and the right to vote; the 21st gives Americans the right to drink alcohol.

After that, milestone birthdays seem to be confined to years that end with a zero, and certain years that end with a five, such as 65, generally regarded as retirement age.

Clearly, such birthdays awaken the celebratory instinct. At Napoleon Skydiving Center, between Adrian and Jackson, Mich., a regular client did 60 skydives on his 60th birthday last year, said employee Josh Owens. And in 2002, a man did his first-ever skydive, a tandem jump, to celebrate his 90th birthday, Mr. Owens added.

Several callers who responded to The Blade s request for tales of celebration that go beyond that of the classic birthday bash.

When Donald Munkacy turned 40 in 1988, his life seemed at a crossroads. Divorced for three years, he thought about buying a car, but something greater tugged at him.

I was feeling personally depressed and down, and I was looking for something to kick-start my life again, the South Toledo man said. It was a choice between getting a new car and taking a long trip.

The trip won. He had served in Vietnam, but had done no other international travel, and he was eager to see more of the world.

I was really interested in the poaching situation in east Africa and how the government of Kenya was handling the poaching situation, he said. I thought it would be educational and interesting.

It worked out really well.

He joined a small group, and spent 18 days of his three-week trip camping out in the bush. Exploring the cradle of humanity and meeting native Africans expanded his world in ways he could never have imagined.

Sixteen years later, that odometer year trip remains part of his life, in ways large and small. After watching animals in the wild, he dislikes seeing them in captivity. I can t go to a zoo anymore and see animals in cages, he said. It just doesn t seem right.

When a group of sorority sisters from the University of Toledo realized they had milestone birthdays fast approaching, they decided special celebrations were needed.

There s 15 of us that are still pretty much together; we all went to TU in the 70s, said Karen Steele, who served as president of Alpha Omicron Pi one year. We still get together every year for Christmas and have a party. We decided when we were 50, that s a monumental birthday, and theme parties were in order.

You have to guess what your theme is, Ms. Steele explained. And you definitely look forward to it.

The first friend received 50 Twinkies, as her husband works for the Hostess company. Another friend, now a prosecutor in Michigan, garnered only black-and-white gifts, under the It s Criminal to Look So Good at 50 theme. A gregarious ( At Shipsawanna, she found an Amish guy and talked to him about his horse, Ms. Steele said), hat-loving friend was showered with hats of all types.

Knowing each so well makes the parties even better.

We re really close one starts a sentence, the other finishes it, Ms. Steele said. And the celebrations affirm the fun and energy that characterizes the group.

When you re 50, your life is not over, Ms. Steele said.



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