Centenarian celebrates birthday in the clouds

A Kern County woman celebrates her 100th birthday by riding in a helicopter.
BAKERSFIELD - The average life expectancy for Americans is 78 years, so to celebrate your 100th birthday is a blessing and a milestone. Thursday, one local woman celebrated her century on earth, in the sky.

Katherine Stella is three months older than crossword puzzles. If you're going to celebrate your 100th birthday, you might as well do it big. So she did, in a helicopter.

At 99 years old, you'd think Katherine Stella would have seen and done it all. But there was one item still left on her bucket list. For her 100th birthday, Stella wanted to ride in a helicopter.

"I've never been in one before," Stella said.

Born and raised in New York City, Stella is one tough cookie with an adventurous spirit. Her daughter, Kathleen Gulnac, says it didn't take long for her mom to decide how to celebrate her century of life.

"We had a big party for her last year. I asked 'how can we top this, mom?' and she looked at me and tapped her cheek, and her eyes got all twinkly and said 'well you know I've never ridden in a helicopter'," Gulnac said.

So with her daughter by her side, Stella buckled up and got ready to take flight as the rest of her family looked on.

"I think it was her 80th birthday, she rode the mules down the Grand Canyon. So, every big birthday she wants to be doing something that's different," said Stella's son, Tom.

The propellers started turning and it was time for takeoff. Over the farmland and the oilfields, Stella was on cloud nine.

When she got back on the tarmac and into her wheelchair, Stella was all smiles, still flying high from the ride of her life.

"Oh wonderful! I can't believe it! All these beautiful homes and things to see in the cities, it's just fantastic. I loved every second of it," Stella said.

At her age, Stella's hearing might not be as sharp as it used to be, but this centenarian's spunk and spirit is only getting stronger with age.

Stella actually turns 100 on Sunday. She says the secret to her longevity is her wonderful family and her happiness.
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