Joan Giesbrecht points to the airplanes landing at Golden Triangle Regional Airport that she watches everyday from her front porch in Brooksville. Giesbrecht, who has a fascination with airplanes flying in and out of GTR, was recently taken on a VIP tour of the Atlanta airport by Delta Airlines. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
August 26, 2017 10:13:31 PM
The Giesbrecht family lives on 100 acres of land in Brooksville in a home that sits high on a ridge. From the front porch, you can look down on several of the family's five catfish ponds, the cows grazing contentedly nearby and beyond their property, across Lynn Creek Road, a bucolic landscape that makes you want to paint it.
These sights interest Joan Giesbrecht, especially the cows. "She sits here on the porch and watches the cows and tells her dad when there's a new calf," said her mother, Yvonne.
But more than anything else, she watches the skies. Joan likes airplanes. Every evening, she rushes to the front porch to watch the last Delta flight of the day from Atlanta land at Golden Triangle Regional Airport, about 15 miles to the north of their home.
"She wants me to find out where the plane is at (on her smartphone), then she gets on Flight Radar and watches the plane come in on 3D, which is like being in the pilot's seat -- you see what the pilot sees," Yvonne said. "It's mama's fun, too. Every day she comes running in and says, 'Mama, airplane!' It's a daily ritual around here. It's a big part of her life.
"I'm not really sure how long she's been this way about planes. We've been in this house 11 years, so it might have started then. It may have started a little earlier than that. I'm not sure."
Over the years, Joan's parents make a point to find out new ways enhance her enjoyment of planes. Joan has been on quite a few flights. Sometimes, when she and her mom, are running errands that take them to Columbus, they'll stop in at GTR. Joan likes to stop and see if maybe all of the sudden a big plane will be coming in."
Thursday topped everything.
"We never expected this," Yvonne says.
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Joan Giesbrecht, the fifth of Douglas and Yvonne Giesbrecht's six adult children, turned 27 on Aug. 7. But in many respects, she remains a small child -- maybe 5 or 6, says her mom.
"She's special needs," Yvonne says. "She has a good memory, but she's pretty child-like so you never know how much she really takes in. But we're blessed. She's a good-natured child. She doesn't give us many problems."
For Joan's 27th birthday, friends arranged for Joan and Yvonne to fly to Atlanta on the 11 a.m. Flight from GTR, spend the day walking around the terminal and watching the planes depart and arrive. Hartsfield International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, with an estimated 950,000 flights each year.
"We were going to walk all over and just look at all the planes," Yvonne says. "Joan is always interested in the planes that go to LaGuardia in New York because she's flown there."
It was a trip Joan had been looking forward to for almost three weeks.
"Really, the idea started with my daughter-in-law, Renae," Yvonne says. "She thought the trip would be a good idea to answer some of Joan's questions -- she's always asking questions. So she asked some of Joan's friends around here at the (Mennonite Church) and they came up with plenty of money for two tickets for us to go to Atlanta."
Joan was presented with the surprise gift on her birthday, but the flight was scheduled for Thursday.
"That was good," Yvonne said. "She had almost three weeks to look forward to it and be excited about it."
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Yvonne and Joan arrived at GTR in plenty of time for the much-anticipated 11 a.m. flight to Atlanta. While they were checking in, Rhonda Dye, the station manager for Delta at GTR, saw them.
"They come out here to watch the planes sometimes, so I knew them a little bit," Dye said. "So I went up to say hello, and Yvonne told me about the trip. I didn't say anything, but I was thinking 'I wish I had known about this a day or two earlier. We could have arranged something special.'"
As soon as Yvonne and Joan left the ticket counter, Dye decided to make an inquiry anyway, calling Delta's regional manager, Gary Anderson.
"I thought maybe they could do a little something for them, but it's only an hour flight. I thought maybe they could arrange for someone to greet them. I dream big, but I never would have imagined what they were able to put together. It was incredible, really."
The call to Anderson initiated a whirlwind of activity in Atlanta, where the airline's "Atlanta Airport Experience and Service Recovery Team" quickly put together what it calls a "Surprise and Delight" event.
The team's purpose to is plan and execute VIP tours for selected passengers, many of them dignitaries or celebrities.
Yvonne and Joan were oblivious to what was in store for them.
"The first thing we noticed was that they gave us water and snacks on the plane," Yvonne said. "They never do that. Joan knows it, too. She said, "No water. No snacks." It was like she was reminding them. Then the crew wished Joan a Happy Birthday and everyone on the plane sang Happy Birthday to her."
Yvonne figured that was the end of it.
"When we got to Atlanta, they told us to stay behind while everyone got off the plane. Then they let Joan sit in the captain's chair and the pilot showed her some of the dials and switches and buttons. That didn't take long. She gets kind of itchy after a few minutes. She wants to move on to the next thing."
It was when they reached the end of the jetway that the real surprises began.
"A man named Marcus and a woman named Olive met us there with balloons and a plaque with Joan's name on it," Yvonne said "The took us down the steps, we didn't even go into the terminal, and put us in a Porsche car -- it's kind of a fancy car -- and drove us all over."
It turned out to be a two-hour tour of the airport and Delta's operations there.
"When we got in the car, they told Joan, "You're going somewhere a lot of people never get the chance to go. ' They showed us where the President's plane would come in and sit and the security and all that. There was a 747 sitting out there, so they gave us a tour and we looked all inside.
"Then they took us to the Delta Museum and we got to go through a 767 and all through the museum. They bought Joan a couple little toys at the gift shop there, then we came back to the International Terminal and took us up to the Delta Flight Club. I don't know who gets to go in there, but it was nice -- food to eat all over. And we could watch the international flights from there. They also had a deck where you go outside and watch the planes. She liked that."
It was a whirlwind of an adventure.
By Friday, Joan and Yvonne were back to their normal routine.
Asked what her favorite part of the trip had been, Joan answered quickly. "The plane."
"What plane? The GTR plane?" Yvonne asked.
"Yes, mama." she said.
Yvonne smiled knowingly.
"I'm not sure exactly what all she will remember," she said. "But it's an experience for her. She'll have more things to talk about."
As for herself, Yvonne said what struck her most about the surprise tour were the people.
"There are a lot of quality people out there in the world," she said.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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