Jerry Carl “Jet” Jensen, age 82, of Richmond, Indiana, slipped the surly bonds of Earth on Saturday, November 20, 2021, at home surrounded by his family.
Jerry was born at home on May 25, 1939, near Meriden, Iowa, to Otto and Lilly Johnson Jensen. His youth was spent on his family’s farm, where he learned to do everything from milking cows and castrating piglets to plowing the fields and repairing tractors (always John Deere). Jerry grew up being very close with his many aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as many neighbors and friends, most of who attended the local Lutheran church that was founded by his grandfather after immigrating to Iowa from Sweden. Considered tall by most, at home Jerry was the shortest man in his family at 6’3”. After being a great student and graduating high school, he attended Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa. Although Jerry was a state champion plowman and liked farming and animals, he had a passion for aviation. As a boy, Jerry would look up at the sky when a plane flew by and comment, “I’ll be up there someday.” Finally, deciding that a career as a pilot was the best path for him, he transferred to Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Jerry’s work took him to Kettering, Ohio, where he met his future wife, LaDonna. After they married, they moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where their daughter, Julia, was born. They relocated to Livermore, California, in 1971. Their second daughter, Sarah, was born in 1972, but sadly only lived for a few weeks. Their third daughter, Janell, was born in 1975. In 1976, the family moved to Richmond to be near LaDonna’s mother and aunts. They joined First English Lutheran Church at that time, as well. Jerry had been a highly valued member of his community in Richmond ever since.
Jerry began his career flying for various cargo and then charter carriers, including Universal, Zantop, and Saturn Airways. He then flew many years with Transamerica Airlines, before becoming one of the first pilots hired by UPS as they developed their air fleet. Jerry had piloted many types of commercial aircraft, including the AW Argosy in the beginning, and flew as Captain of Douglas DC-8 and later as Captain of his favorite commercial jet to fly, the Boeing 747. He flew all over the United States, as well as to every continent in the world except Antarctica. From student to Co-Pilot to Captain, Jerry’s attention to detail, intuition for the physics of flight, deep knowledge of the machinery of the aircraft, as well as his commitment to integrity and safety meant that anyone who flew with him was absolutely impressed. His careful handling meant Jerry was requested specifically to fly the champion racehorse, Secretariat, three times. He also was the right pilot to spend a month transporting devout Muslim pilgrims, who had never flown before, from rural parts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast to Mecca for the Hajj. Jerry especially enjoyed flying to Alaska, Hawaii, Germany, Hong Kong, and Japan.
Additionally, Jerry flew and restored WWII-era Stearman biplanes — WWII open cockpit trainer planes—with his best buddy, Jeff Jordan. He also enjoyed rebuilding them, but especially loved going to fly-ins and giving rides. Jerry was always sharing the skies with family and friends, as well as taking the planes to Hagerstown, Indiana; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Galesburg, Illinois; or even back to Iowa. He and Jeff donated rides to many charitable organizations’ fundraisers. Jerry also took many veterans for rides, including a WWII veteran who trained in a Stearman in 1942. He enjoyed meeting with his “Richmond Air Force” friends and was a member of Stearman Restorers Association and the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Chapter 373.
Jerry was a gifted mechanic. He grew up on John Deere tractors and always had at least one green-and-yellow implement on hand—and had kept them all running for decades. Jerry also maintained and operated the antique cars at the Wayne County Historical Museum for years. For countless family, neighbors, and friends, he could repair any mower, tractor, car, appliance, or machine…anything with a motor. Jerry enjoyed removing snow from the neighborhood every winter with his snowblower, as well.
Jerry would do anything for anyone and almost never said no. He had a kind heart. Jerry always enjoyed the company of animals, much to the delight of his daughters, and welcomed a motley succession of cats, dogs, mice, ferrets, hamsters, horses, and even goldfish into the family. He was an amazing horse show dad and then a horse show grandpa. Jerry was an absolutely devoted grandpa for all his grandchildren. He was also an amazing father, excellent husband, and a valuable relative or friend to many, many people. Jerry had the most generous spirit. As one friend put it, “You could scour the whole world and not find one person who didn’t like Jerry Jensen.”
Survivors include his daughters, Julia (Jay Smith) Jensen and Janell (Steve Sizelove) Jensen, both of Richmond; grandchildren, Jade, Rey, Hannah, and Lane; siblings, Richard Jensen and Judy (Wally Sunderland) Jensen; brother-in-law, Tom (Julia) Wratten; nieces and nephews, Jay (Katie) Byers, Boyd (Kimberly) Byers, Dan Wratten, and Robert (Cameron) Wratten; great-nieces and great-nephews; numerous cousins; and countless beloved friends.
He was preceded in death by his wife of more than 53 years, LaDonna Irene Wratten Jensen, who died December 19, 2020; infant daughter, Sarah; parents; sister, Joyce Jensen Byers; and beloved dog, Coconut.
Visitation for Jerry Carl “Jet” Jensen will be from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Friday, December 3, 2021, at First English Lutheran Church, 2727 East Main Street, Richmond. Funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, December 4, 2021, at First English Lutheran Church with Pastor John R. Walker officiating. The service will also include a Celebration of Life for his wife, LaDonna. Burial will be in Glen Haven Memorial Gardens. Arrangements are being handled by Doan & Mills Funeral Home, 790 National Road West, Richmond.
Memorial contributions may be made to: First English Lutheran Church, 2727 East Main Street, Richmond, IN 47374; Hand-in-Hand Adult Day Care of Richmond, 2727 East Main Street, Richmond, IN 47374; Liberty Acres United Rescue Animal Sanctuary, 3546 E. Mitchell Road, Liberty, IN 47353; or Richmond Friends School, 607 West Main Street, Richmond, IN 47374.
Condolences may be sent to the family via the guest book at www.doanmillsfuneralhome.com.