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Denver Nonprofit Helps Older Americans Realize Long-Held Dreams

Rex Schildhouse, 72, visited Bastogne, Belgium and the surrounding area where his father, who served in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, fought against German troops during World War II.

Rex Schildhouse’s father would often say that if it hadn’t been for the residents of Bastogne, Belgium, World War II’s Battle of the Bulge would have had a different outcome.

The residents gave unprepared American soldiers clothes to warm them in the frigid December temperatures, fed them and informed them of German troop movements. Schildhouse, 72, of Ramona, California, says his father, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, wanted to return to Bastogne to say thank you but never got the chance.

So Schildhouse, who served in the U.S. Navy for 19 years, traveled to Bastogne to do so himself.

“This was probably one of the five most emotional events of my life,” says Schildhouse, who visited the battlefield where his father fought.

The six-day trip in September 2022 was made possible by the Denver-based nonprofit Wish of a Lifetime, a charitable affiliate of AARP that helps Americans 65 and over realize long-held dreams. In its 15 years, the organization has fulfilled more than 2,500 wishes.

“There’s also really a goal to change the perception of aging, change the perception of what’s possible at the later stages of life,” says Jeremy Bloom, an Olympic skier and World Cup gold medalist who founded the nonprofit in 2008.

Bloom says he was inspired by acts of kindness he witnessed while traveling the world as a member of the U.S. Ski Team. He remembers being on a crowded bus in Japan when an older woman walked on and nearly everyone rose from their seats to make sure she had a place to sit and bowed to her. “I was like, wow, this is incredible,” Bloom recalls.

Fostering creativity

Each year, Wish of a Lifetime receives close to 1,000 applications, says Executive Director Tom Wagenlander. Grantees are chosen based on feasibility of the wish and the impact it will have. Special emphasis is placed on serving veterans.

The nonprofit’s Voyage of Valor program takes veterans on a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments and memorials built in honor of their service and sacrifice. This year’s 11 veterans represent more than 130 years of combined service.

But the wishes the nonprofit fulfills are wide reaching. It sent an individual to Nashville to record a song; it introduced a grandparent to a grandchild they had only recently learned existed; it helped a woman go to clown college.

“After their wish experience, over 90 percent of recipients reported increases in their quality of life and involvement in the world,” notes Scott Frisch, a Wish of a Lifetime board member who is AARP’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. AARP provides the nonprofit with some funding and operational support.

Martha Weaver, 82, of Denver, was treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in June.

“I can’t imagine any experience ever comparing,” she says.

A retired teacher with a passion for art, Weaver will incorporate some of what she learned in the art classes she holds for residents of her assisted living community.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, Roohee Marshall, 69, records the histories of interesting older adults, which has resulted in two books. Although not a writer by trade, a conversation at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred her to put pen to paper.

Marshall’s wish was to attend a writer’s retreat to improve her writing skills. She spent several days this year in Cape May, New Jersey, connecting with other authors and learning from feedback. “Having the opportunity was so very special for me,” says Marshall, who is now doing interviews for a third book.

Go to to nominate someone you know or to submit your own wish.


An Olympic Skier's Path to Wish Making

In 2007, Jeremy Bloom was thinking of starting a nonprofit to help older Coloradans realize their dreams, and was also weighing whether to continue his career as one of the nation’s top skiers.

Jeremy Bloom

Then he met Nancy Tarpein. A Denver resident, Tarpein told him that her daughter, who lived in Arizona, had been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. She and her daughter spoke daily, but neither could afford the trip to see each other in person.

The moment struck Bloom.

“You don’t really know what people are going through unless you walk in their shoes—and here I was, kind of traveling the world ... getting paid to ski,” he says.

Bloom flew with Tarpein to Phoenix, then drove her to the small town of Claypool, where her daughter lived. When he picked Tarpein up a few days later, she was a different person, Bloom recalls. “She was just beaming from ear to ear,” he says. “She was so filled with life, so filled with energy.”

The experience helped Bloom see the possibilities in creating the nonprofit Wish of a Lifetime to profoundly impact people’s lives. It solidified in his mind his future path in life.

“It was really because of that wish that I retired from athletics,” says Bloom, a two-time Olympic skier and 11-time World Cup gold medalist who also played football in college and professionally.

Bloom says his grandmother, who lived with them while he was growing up, and his grandfather, who flew 17 missions in World War II, were also inspirations in creating the nonprofit.

As Wish of a Lifetime board chair, Bloom focuses on long-term strategy for the organization. He lives in Boulder with his wife, Mariah, and their two young children.

Cynthia Pasquale is a freelance writer and former editor at The Denver Post. She has written for the Bulletin since 2011.

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