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Long leap

Chuck and Beverly Androsky work on a parachute in the early days of Superior Skydivers. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Chuck Androsky celebrates 50 years of Skydive Superior. (Paul Stein/For the Superior Telegram)2 / 2

Fifty years ago, a couple of guys thought it would be a great idea to jump out of an airplane.

Chuck Androsky Sr. and Ron Hogan were at the Superior Speedway working on their 1947 Buick stockcar when they watched a man named Jack Leicht descend over the Superior airport. Dropping their tools, the two rushed over to where Leicht landed - they thought a plane had crashed.

Two hours later, they were in the air ready for their first parachute-assisted jump. Skydive Superior was born.

This was old school skydiving - military-surplus round parachutes, no steering and an exit from the aircraft at 800 feet. Androsky's first 15 jumps in 1961 all ended with him landing in the woods around the airport. His wife, Beverly, also took up jumping in 1961 and helped run the business for decades, everything from paperwork to sewing.

The pair later heard about a skydiving club in Osceola and went to pay a visit.

"They had a lot of good ideas like cutting out a couple of panels of the round chutes to make them steerable," Androsky said. "They also advocated reserve or emergency chutes. We couldn't afford two reserve chutes so we flipped a coin to see who would wear the one we bought."

In 1965, the group went to Canada for an international skydiving meet that featured Beverly Androsky as the first woman skydiver to jump onto a frozen Lake Superior. The gang was treated like royalty with TV appearances, red roses and limousines.

Bitten by the thrill of skydiving, Androsky jumped in with both feet and bought an airplane.

"That was when I realized I didn't know how to fly an airplane so I took lessons and got my pilots license," he said.

Over the last 50 years, Androsky has owned five different models of Cessna and a Twin Beech. The Drop Zone currently operates with a Cessna 182 and a Cessna 185. Androsky has logged more than 3,400 jumps and 6,000 hours flying since the formation of Skydive Superior.

He was responsible, in part, for the initial testing of the current style of parachutes. Androsky has jumped in locations throughout the U.S. When asked what was next, Androsky replied: "Fifty [years] down, 50 to go"!

Bill Amorde, longtime manager of Superior's Bong Airport, remembers a day in 1963 when he was eating breakfast at a South End restaurant and was approached by Androsky about the airplane Amorde just bought.

Androsky asked Amorde - a pilot delivering milk by truck for the family dairy - if he would like to fly skydivers.

"What are skydivers?" Amorde asked. After getting the explanation he said he thought they were "parachutists."

That was the beginning of a lifelong relationship between the Amorde and Skydive Superior.

It was a good thing for Amorde, who met his wife, Cathy, at the Drop Zone when he flew loads of jumpers for two or three years. Amorde grinned when he said he was particularly interested in her because she had a driver's license and Amorde was, at the time, temporarily without the ability to legally drive.

Over the years, some antics at the Drop Zone caused Amorde to assert his airport manager authority into the operation.

"I guess I've got a bit of a soft spot for them; I kind of grew with them," Amorde said.

In the early 1960s, the club moved off the airport to County Highway Z in Parkland until 1968 when they purchased the Apollo Inn on Highway 35 and built a runway. The club moved back to the Bong Airport in the 1990s and to its current hangar in 2005.

Jumping out of airplanes is a family tradition. Chuck Androsky Jr. has made the leap more than 3,000 times. Mike Androsky was the last to jump to uphold the tradition of the "Flying Androsky's" that includes two daughters-in-law and Chuck Sr. and Beverly's granddaughter, Cody, making the leap, said Beverly Androsky.

Son Mark Androsky is a professional-rated skydiver and has been involved in the family business since 1974. At age 16, he started working at the business to pay for his jumps. In 1991, he left the business to manage a skydiving operation in Colorado. In 1993, he moved to Dallas, Texas and was the assistant manager of Skydive Dallas. During that time, and for 14 years, he was a member of the RE/MAX Skydiving Team and jumped into NASCAR races around the country. He competed in national events, and in 1994, took the bronze medal at the U.S. National Skydiving Championship.

Mark Androsky returned to Superior in 2005 to help run the family Drop Zone; he is responsible to ensure instructors' ratings are current. He is the safety officer at the operation.

During the week, Dean Beaudoin is a mild mannered CPA. On weekends, he becomes "Teacher to adrenalin junkies." Dean began his association with Skydive Superior 21 years ago when the facilities for the Drop Zone consisted of Chuck's pick-up truck. He has seen the evolution of the Drop Zone to today's large airplane hangar complete with visitor lounge, student classroom, computerized manifest display, and many other amenities for the education and comfort of visitors and jumpers.

As an instructor and tandem master, Beaudoin has worked with more than 1,600 happily screaming jumpers making a tandem skydive.

"You don't have to be an outrageous, extreme person to tandem skydive," he said.

Beaudoin said the lifestyle of a skydiver is an accepting one. "A skydiver may leave the sport but will always remain a part of the skydiving family," he said

Chuck Androsky's youngest son, Gary, rejoined the family endeavor in 2008. Under his direction of all ground operations, Skydive Superior has enjoyed remarkable growth in just three seasons.

Now employing a full time staff of instructors and pilots, Skydive Superior has gone from graduating one or two licensed skydivers each year to 24 total in the 2009-2010 season.

With a strong presence in various forms of advertising, Skydive Superior draws from a large mid-west pool of seasoned skydivers as well as first-time tandem jumpers.

Gary has also initiated an "exchange instructor" program, and this year had two instructors from France on the Drop Zone. Gary is also instrumental in this weekend's 50th Anniversary celebration.

Skydivers from all over North America will drop in - literally - to enjoy a weekend of skydiving, celebration and camaraderie.

With events planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the public is encouraged to view the activities at the Richard I. Bong airport in Superior.

Gary has arranged for a special aircraft to be on hand that allows 24 skydivers to reach altitude in a matter of minutes before making a colorful descent.

Telegram editor Shelley Nelson contributed to this report.