At five feet five and maybe a 140 pounds soaking wet, Verna Shinn is a Stephenville lady who has cut a wide swath through a largely man’s world.
She owned and operated her own construction company for a number of years until she sold it to her son in 1999. What did her Stephenville based company do? They built bridges.
“We were a pile-driving machine company,” she said. “We worked all over the state of Texas. “A local bridge that my company built is the new bridge at Bluff Dale, the one that replaced the old swinging bridge.”
Verna applied and got a private pilot’s license in 1968, the first woman in Erath County to earn one. She joined the famous women’s pilot group the Ninety-nines that was founded in 1929 with Amelia Earhart as one of the charter members.
“We had many projects through the years,” Verna said. “We painted the runway signs here at Clark Field twice. I have always enjoyed being a part of the Ninety-nines, so named because there were originally 99 members.”
Verna became an important figure in the construction business when she married Jimmy Shinn in 1955. His business was construction and his bride quickly joined in the building projects, eventually forming her own company. Today, their son, Jimmy, and partner Gregory operate the business.
Besides jumping out of airplanes, Verna likes to travel and has an Alaskan cruise planned that will depart in a few days. She also likes to do things with the Senior Citizens and joined the Line Dancing group last year.
“I want folks to know that just because you reach a certain place in life, doesn’t mean that you are ready for the junk pile,” she said. “I wanted to do something interesting for my 70th birthday so I thought it would be fun to skydive. I mean, to keep doing whatever I feel like doing for as long as I can. When you stop doing fun things, you are dead!”
Verna contacted Don (Doc) Stewart of “Texas FreeFall” about the birthday present she wanted to give herself. He added the finishing touches and the dye was cast. Some family members weren’t so sure about mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, jumping out of a plane that wasn’t on fire, but she was determined that this was an experience she wanted to have.
So, on Aug. 31, about 50 family members and friends gathered at Clark Field and watched as she climbed into a Cessna 182.
Her granddaughters shouted to their children, “Watch! Granny is going to jump out of a plane!”
They all stared skyward as the plane climbed to 10,500 feet. They watched, mouths open, as she stepped out of the plane diving in tandem with Scott Moore in a graceful descent, landing safely in a field of grass a few yards away from the tarmac.
She landed on her feet, held up both arms and shouted, “I’d like to do that again! That was really fun.”