Jake's last jump a good one

Oak Creek's Labor Day event serves as happy send-off

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Jake Schwan descended from the sky into a crowd of cheering people for the last time Monday during Labor Day celebrations in Oak Creek.

Schwan, 83, is a skydiver known across the United States. He has made almost 3,000 jumps.

"When I leave this park ... I will fly no more," Schwan said in a farewell speech after he landed safely in the field at Decker Park. "Adios, blue skies, and Amen. Thank you."

Cameras flashed, and several people in the crowd called out, "Thank you, Jake." Oak Creek Mayor Cargo Rodeman presented him a cake and a plaque.

Skydivers are an annual feature of Oak Creek's Labor Day celebration. After the parade down Main Street, everyone heads for Decker Park to watch skydivers try to land in the field, aiming for a pizza pan. Sometimes, the jumpers go astray, but this year, all made it safely onto the field, including Schwan.

Schwan was wearing a purple and white jump suit that had a few rips -- it's been through at least 300 dives, he said.

He began skydiving when he was 51 years old because his son wanted to try it. No matter how many times he jumps, it's still scary, he said.

"I do it because I must," he said. When prodded further, he said, "It's not fun, it's better.

"The reason it's better is because it's the unrelenting pursuit to achievement."

He's known among skydivers as "Late Jake" because, he said, he always took the "glory spot" in a formation dive -- out of the dozens of divers who jump in formation, he was the last one out the airplane's door.

"I was good at it," Schwan said. "They would say (to other skydivers), 'You can't go in the last because 'Late Jake' goes there."

Schwan is a bricklayer by trade. He said he has jumped less and less with each passing year.

Most people he knows from the skydiving world have died or quit. Those who are left sometimes do not know Schwan.

"They look at me, and they look at how old I am, and they don't want to jump with me," he said.

And, Schwan said, every athlete has to recognize when it's time for him or her to give up the sport.

"My time has come," he said.

Joe Pete LoRusso and Tom Corl, both of Steamboat Springs, descended into the park first. Both have been part of the town's past 10 Labor Day festivities.

Carol Johnson was one of several people who asked to be photographed with Schwan.

Johnson, who was born and raised in Oak Creek, said Schwan was instrumental in getting everyone to the park after the parade on Labor Day.

"Well, I'll tell you what, you've done a lot for Oak Creek," Johnson said to Schwan.

"Thanks, Jake. Good job. We'll remember you forever."

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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