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DREAMS TAKE WING VIA FREE FARE

SHARE DREAMS TAKE WING VIA FREE FARE

Kaye Pettus wants to see her son, who is ill, in San Diego.

Mary Ellen Liken, who is legally blind, anxiously awaits a flight to Tulsa, Okla., to visit a son "who needs a hug from Mom and encouragement" after losing his job along with thousands of others in the airline manufacturing industry.And Alfredo and Felicidad Mer-cado, a Filipino couple, are happy about traveling to Los Angeles to see a niece and other relatives they haven't seen in nearly 30 years.

The four individuals and 21 other Salt Lake County senior citizens will have an opportunity to see family and friends through Southwest Airlines' "Home for the Holidays" program.

All 25 people, including other couples, individuals in wheelchairs and those with other handicapping conditions, were given complimentary tickets Monday to destinations of their choice in a happy celebration at Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce offices.

University of Utah head football coach Ron McBride handed out tickets and hugs amid tears and expressions of appreciation for the airline's "generosity in brightening the lives of thousands of people."

Shauna O'Neil, director of Salt Lake County Aging Services, which along with Southwest screened applications for the complimentary tickets, thanked the airline. She said the program had re-emphasized how important Christmas is to thousands of elderly citizens frustrated at being separated from loved ones because of a lack of funds to travel, illness and other reasons.

The 25, all 65 or over, were selected from a field of 75 applicants. They were chosen based on their fixed incomes and a proven need for transportation to be with loved ones.

Susan S. Dahlstrom, Southwest area marketing manager, said the free transportation program has been a tradition with Southwest for the past 15 years in 44 other cities.

"We are very happy to share the program, which in 1986 received a presidential award, with Salt Lake City and Utah," Dahlstrom said.

McBride cordially welcomed the senior citizens, joking with some of them about the places they were traveling and the Utah-red clothing some were wearing.

"Wear that red dress all the time," McBride reminded Kyong Hui Min, a Korean woman who will travel to El Paso to see an ill sister she hasn't seen in 25 years.

Pettus, 68, South Salt Lake, told the audience her son, whom she has not seen in four years, is a nurse who contracted AIDS from a baby who died in his arms. Needles came out of the baby and pricked him, Pettus said, saying "I would love to see him before it is too late. I really appreciate this more than you'll ever know."

Margaret J. Henrie, Kearns, said she's anxious to see a niece in Sacramento who is suffering from cancer.

"She is like one of my daughters and has wanted me to come visit her, but money only goes so far," Henrie wrote on her application.

Kathy Peterson, who will travel to Indianapolis and then on to Decatur, Ind., expressed excitement in being able to see a brother and a sister, who are approaching 70 and 63, respectively. Both are in poor health.

"I have not seen them in over 20 years. Also, our mother is buried in Charleston, Ill., and I have never seen her burial place," Peterson said.

Cecilia T. Rogan, 69, who has diabetes and who suffered a stroke (she's in a wheelchair) in 1991, will fly to Oakland, Calif., and then travel on to visit a son, three sisters, two brothers and two step-grandsons in the Bay area.

Gustavo Loza, a native Bolivian, said he will enjoy spending the holidays in Sacramento with his two sons. "For many years I could not be with them to celebrate Christmas. This year, because of your kindness, we will all be together."