‘Mr. Mature’ Dodges Storms, Completes Airlift of Supplies

first_imgBy TIM KELLYNeither rain, nor lightning, nor 35 mph winds could keep Mr. Mature America from his appointed rounds.Jack Merritt, a management consultant from West Grove, Pa., and Ocean City’s reigning Mr. Mature America, touched his 1967 vintage Mooney single-engine plane down on the runway of Ocean City Municipal Airport on Friday afternoon.The aircraft carried a 400-pound load of needed supplies for local residents severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for first responders.“I’m so proud of him. It just goes to show you, with the crown comes the power,” Ocean City Special Events Coordinator Michael Hartman said with a grin of the Mr. Mature title, awarded annually in a Music Pier parody of the traditional beauty pageants.Barbara Eden, of “I Dream of Jeannie” fame and last year’s MMA contest emcee, announced Merritt as the 2019 winner of an event that has become a local entertainment staple.Staples of living were the payload of the cargo area of the plane, which Merritt affectionately named “Matilda.” The craft was meticulously restored and converted from a four-seat passenger craft to a three-seater with a cargo area to serve Merritt’s Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue operation.Jack Merritt supervises the off-loading of supplies to aid the COVID-19 fight in Ocean City.In the pre-pandemic days, he used the plane for pleasure flights with his wife, Julia, and to pick up and deliver rescue animals up and down the East Coast and a few states west of the Mississippi as well.When Merritt learned of Ocean City’s need for help in the battle against COVID-19, he made a sizable donation of items and solicited others from friends and neighbors on social media. He made his intention known to deliver the goods by air in the plane he’s flown for 18 of the 22 years he’s been a private pilot.Hartman connected him with Drew Fasy, chairman of OCNJ CARE, the non-profit organization charged with identifying folks in need, finding donations, recruiting volunteers, and distributing the aid.“This is something we could do,” Merritt said of his mission of mercy.“It takes a village,” he explained on social media, citing his workers and volunteers at Greenmore Farm and the many folks who stepped up and donated goods.Greenmore Farm volunteer Beth Piha was influential in bringing the rescue flight idea to Jack Merritt. (Photo courtesy City of Ocean City)Donated items included medical grade masks, homemade cloth face coverings, gloves and basic human needs articles such as toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper and the like. Most needed were items not allowed to be paid for with food stamps, Fasy said, which Merritt delivered.Not that the mission was routine or without drama.“I don’t mind rain, I don’t mind wind. I do mind lightning,” Merritt said of his flight.An anticipated 45-minute flight from an airfield near his Pennsylvania home took only 25 minutes because of a strong tailwind, Merritt said. But the gusts and lightning forced him to circle a landing strip in Woodbine and consider shelving the flight plan and touching down there.Live radar at the time showed a massive storm cell, with another just behind it. In between was a sliver of clear skies, even some sunlight.“One of my times circling Woodbine I could see Ocean City (and the brief window between cells).”Merritt immediately headed for O.C. and threaded the needle in between torrential showers. Just a few moments after the landing, the skies opened up again.Jack Merritt’s plane, which he calls “Matilda,” taxis to a stop on the airport tarmac.He was met on the tarmac by Fasy, Hartman, City Councilman Tony Wilson, who also serves as an OCNJ CARE ward captain, and a small handful of onlookers. Maintaining strict social distancing, the group picked up the supplies and loaded them into Fasy’s SUV.Merritt, who personally loaded the plane, proceeded to leave the boxes on the craft’s right wing, where members of the group picked them up for the transfer. Merritt did not allow anyone within distancing guidelines of the cockpit, which had been thoroughly disinfected.“Matilda is a COVID-19 free zone,” he declared with a smile.Fasy said he was awed and inspired by Merritt’s gesture.“It really says something about what a great place Ocean City is that someone who lives in another state but owns a home here would think to do something like this for our struggling residents,” Fasy said. “Jack has a big heart.”City Councilman Tony Wilson, left, and Drew Fasy, center, chairman of OCNJ Care, help Jack Merritt unload the plane. With his plane in the background, Jack Merritt reacts after his dramatic landing at Ocean City Municipal Airport.last_img

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