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Longtime friends, age 85 and 93, make soft landing at Lodi Airport

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Posted: Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 10:01 am, Sun May 8, 2011.

Bob Potter has waited since 1942 to jump out of an airplane.

That was the year he entered the Marine Corps during World War II, and paratroopers needed to be at least 18 years old. Potter was 16, although the Army thought he was 17.

On his 85th birthday on Friday, he finally fulfilled his goal with four of his children and about 40 members of Lockeford Seventh-day Adventist Church cheering him on as he floated to the ground.

"I guess this is nothing for him, because he was 16 when he landed in Guadalcanal," his son, Mel Potter, said.

Potter jumped with 93-year-old Francis Ruddle, a former pastor whom he has known since 1970, and Jim Whitcomb, the pastor of the Lockeford church Potter has attended for the past 11 years. Potter's daughter, Jeanette, also took the plunge.

The four parachuters left the plane shortly after 1 p.m. The large group on the ground spanning generations shielded their eyes and craned their necks to get a glimpse of the them as they landed. Potter and Ruddle both landed with smiles on their face, and were immediately surrounded by news crews and family and friends.

"When you first come off the plane and are free-falling, you have some thoughts. ... You wanted to hurry up and stop," Potter said.

He has prepared for the jump by going to the gym for six months, but said his legs gave out a little as they walked to the door in the plane.

But once the parachute was released, he enjoyed looking at the houses and horizon as he floated to the ground.

"You see the population of the country from a different view," he said.

Ruddle decided to jump as well when Potter said he was going for his birthday.

"You just get to the door and you are gone. There is a minute or two of free-fall and they pull the chute, and boy, you can feel that. I wanted to keep my wits and behave myself."

This is not the first time Ruddle, who has lived in Lodi for 26 years, has tried something adventurous. When he was 80 years old, he tried snow skiing for the first time. He has also been in a hot-air balloon and parasailing.

Potter has also had some adventures traveling to Vietnam two years ago and attending Marine Corps reunions every year.

"He's the adventurous type," Mel Potter said.

Bob Potter moved to Lodi in the mid-1950s and ran Potter's Trucking for at least 20 years. His wife said he was crazy to jump out of a plane, but it is something he has waited to do since he was turned down by the Marine Corps almost 70 years ago. With five children, he said he never had the money.

So will he do it again?

"I don't think my wife will let me. You know who's boss," Potter said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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