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Pasco Tribune

Champion parachutist Jim Arender's ashes spread sky-high

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 31, 2013 at 02:03 PM

ZEPHYRHILLS - Skydiving friends gave a heavenly send-off to Jim Arender on Thursday morning, scattering his ashes high above Skydive City.

Fifteen skydivers joined a free-fall formation where Arender's ashes were released after a jump from 13,500 feet.

Arender, a member of the Army Parachute Team, died in November at the age of 73.

He was considered a pioneering skydiver. In 1960, he was the first U.S. citizen to win a gold medal at a world skydiving championship. Two years later, Arender was the first American to become the overall world champion.

Before the memorial jump, Skydive City owner T.K. Hayes presented a certificate from Ed Scott, executive director of the U.S. Parachute Association, to Arender's brother, Eric. The certificate read: “It is my honor and privilege to recognize an outstanding American and member of USPA who as a competitor made a significant contribution to our sport.”

Eric Arender said his brother enlisted in the Army soon after graduating from high school. Arender served as a sergeant in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

“I think he didn't even know how to spell skydive much less do it until he got in the Army,” Eric said. “He taught me how to swim. I used to marvel as he was going off the high-dive; he'd seem like he was suspended in air. He did it with grace. He was a talented athlete.”

Several of Jim Arender's friends attended the memorial ceremony.

Lenny Waugh, 80, an old friend who organized the memorial jump, was with Arender in his final days. Waugh, one of the original Navy SEALs, met Arender in 1959. Arender was his skydiving instructor.

“He was a genuinely good instructor. I learned a lot from him,” he said.

Arender died Nov. 14 at Bay Pines VA Medical Center. He was born in Stillwater, Okla., and also lived in Sante Fe, N.M.

Waugh talked Arender into moving from Sante Fe to Gulfport three years ago. Arender had a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Waugh helped transport him to the doctor.

Another friend, Muriel Simbro, moved to Gulfport from Idaho to help care for Arender. Simbro, 86, who learned her skydiving skills from Arender, was the first woman to attain a skydiving expert rating.

Simbro began skydiving with her husband, Hank, and grew to love the sport. She was a 2012 inductee into the National Skydiving Museum Hall of Fame.

Dave Hanson, of St. Petersburg, jumped with Arender in the early 1960s when they were both civilian skydiving enthusiasts. He tells a special story of a jump in 1962.

“We jumped for President Kennedy when he visited in Palm Springs, Calif. We jumped a number of times together, but that was the most memorable jump.” Hanson said. “Jim and I landed close to the taxi strip, and … I went down on one knee, but it looked like it was planned that way, like I was kneeling to the president. Then we both popped up and hand-saluted him, and he stood up and saluted us back.”

Waugh praised Hayes for his work on the ceremony.

“Lenny Waugh approached me about a month ago,” Hayes said.

Hayes said Waugh asked him, “What's this going to cost me.”

Hayes told Waugh it would not cost him anything.

“Jim was a great pioneer in our sport,” Hayes said. “These guys deserve every bit of respect we can give them.”

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