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Holding Weekly ReaderEight-year-old Eileen believed she could fly.

Eighty-two years later, her dream came true.

In 1935, Eileen von Hagn read an article in her Weekly Reader about Amelia Earhart. She vowed to be the next female flyer. But as with so many of our dreams, life got in the way.

One year after graduating in 1945 from Bogota High School in New Jersey, Eileen married William Lenherr. Together they had four children.When her husband retired from the Navy they bought a farm in Fluvanna. Life was good, until it wasn’t. Lenherr’s husband died at 47.

The recently widowed Jackie Kennedy was Lenherr’s role model – reserved and elegant.

“She had little John and my youngest was 3,” Lenherr said. “I decided I had to grab the bull by the horns and run with it.”

Lenherr did just that. She eventually sold the farm. She opened Li’l Folks Nursery School in Fork Union. Her grandson Ryan Pace remembered attending.

“Some of my first memories of my gramma were from attending her school as a 3- and 4-year-old child,” Pace wrote in an email. ”It seemed like such a fun and amazing place at that time. As kids we would continue to spend summers with her throughout our youth. There was always something to keep us busy, from hiking and fishing to camping trips. She has always had a sense of adventure.”

Lenherr also worked in the fire tower on Route 6 alerting rangers to fires. “Back then, sparks from the trains started a lot of fires,” she said.
Tristana Treadway, Fluvanna County clerk of the circuit court, is Pace’s sister and Lenherr’s granddaughter.

“Gramma was [and] is extremely close and involved with all of her grandchildren,” Treadway said. “My brother and I spent many weeks of our summer vacation at our gramma’s house or on a camping adventure with her. Our adventures with gramma continued throughout our youth and into adulthood. In her late 70s and into her 80s, we went camping every summer together.”

Lenherr never lost her sense of adventure or her tattered copy of the Amelia Earhart article in the Weekly Reader.

When anyone asked, she told them when she turned 90 she wanted to ride in an open-cockpit plane like her hero.

When the family celebrated Lenherr’s 90th birthday Aug. 25, they surprised her with a gift certificate for that plane ride, Treadway said.

Over the years, Lenherr followed stories of Earhart’s fateful flight. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were lost July 2, 1937, on their way to the Howland Islands during an attempted around-the-world flight.

The official explanation is the plane crashed into the Pacific after running out of fuel. Other theories have the pair landing on Nikumaroro Island where bones and other artifacts were found.
Surprisingly, Bryan Stewart, the pilot who took Lenherr up in his 1941 Boeing-Stearman biplane on Oct. 14, had this summer flown a team to the South Pacific looking for Earhart clues, Lenherr said.

“Wasn’t that something?” she said during an interview in her Fluvanna home.

Even though Lenherr had more than a month to think about the upcoming flight, she wasn’t nervous, she said.

After pushing her walker across the tarmac to the plane and being helped into the front seat of the two-seater plane, Lenherr donned the headgear, gave a thumbs up and headed into the wild blue yonder. From Warrenton-Fauquier Airport, they took an hour-long flight touring the skies above Fauquier County.

At some point, Stewart asked Lenherr if she’d like to take control. “Right away I said, ‘No,’ but then I got to thinking about it and thought, ‘I’m not getting out of this plane without flying it,” so I did,” she said. “I was Amelia Earhart for a day.”

The best part?

“Landing,” Lenherr said. “The pilot was a very nice young man. I gave him a big hug.”

She joined her family who was picnicking nearby.

Lenherr attributes her long life to having a good family. “We like to have fun,” she said.

Treadway agreed: “The biggest thing that my gramma taught me was to make positive memories. Every moment in life is a memory created. Let’s create ones that evoke a positive feeling and when recalled fill us with happiness.“