Family of pilot James Poelman share their father's story
"Time is short, you never know when something is going to happen," Ben Poelman said. "This was a surprise for us. Just make sure you know where you are going when you die. I know my father would want that shared."
Ben' along with his twin brothers Cody and Jacob, sister Jenny Ward and sister-in-law Sasha Poelman, shared the story of their dad, James Poelman. Poelman died on Wednesday when his Cessna plane collided with another Cessna plane above the Mat-Su valley.
"It's not like it is now, cloudy or raining," Jacob said. "It was 68 degrees, blue skies, no wind. As soon as I heard what happened I was like, 'okay, a collision with an aircraft, of course he did. Wait, what? How?' I still can't even wrap my head around it."
Not knowing what happened in the skies over the Mat-Su valley still bothers Jacob and a lot of his family members.
"I've ridden with several other pilots and he is easily the most cautious pilot I have ever seen in my life," Ward said. "It had to have been his time because there is no other reason that should've happened."
"It doesn't make sense how it happened," Cody Poelman's wife, Sasha said. "Not at all."
"It was extremely unexpected," Jacob said. "When my mom called me I thought she was calling me to yell at me about something. It didn't even hit when she started telling me what was going on. It didn't even register, it's not something you'd expect. Not an airplane, maybe a car crash, not in an airplane. It's not like head-on collisions is something you hear about. It's just not common. It's not something that ever ran through my head."
The family remembered all of the plane rides their father gave them, ever his family famous wing dip he would perform when flying overhead. James Poelman always wanted to be a pilot since he was six years old. He enlisted in the Air Force hoping to catch his wings there, only to be told he was color blind and wasn't allowed to fly.
"He got there, got all ready and good to go and said you're color blind you can't fly," Ben said. "It about broke his heart."
In the Air Force James found another love, his wife Lisa.
"He treated her like a queen," Jenny said. "He said I love you guys but not as much as your mom."
After the Air Force James Poelman became a minister. For 25 years, he and his wife Lisa and their ever-expanding family started churches in small towns across the country. Living in small towns in North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Hawaii and Wyoming before settling in McGrath, Alaska before moving to Wasilla.
"I personally watched my dad pray for things and saw them answered," Jenny said. "There is no one on earth that knew they should be answered. I saw the places where he started churches. I saw his ministry thrive and I saw people that were helped. Whether it was emotionally or physically, I saw people all over whose lives were completely changed by him."
The Poelman's moved on average from town to town every four years going where God was telling James to go.
"I remember living in Wyoming," Jenny said. "Someone started talking to my dad about McGrath, Alaska. At first, he didn't think anything of it. Then someone else brought it up totally random. That's when my dad said, well, I guess we're being called to Alaska."
That's how James operated. He took what he called signs from God and listened to them. Taking his family where ever it may be.
Just over 12 years ago, James got another shot at becoming a pilot.
"My dad was in his early 40s," Ben said. "He got a call from a missionary friend of his and this guy said, 'I know this sounds crazy but there is this 84-year-old retired fighter pilot that teaches one missionary a year to fly for free and he wants your name.'"
James jumped at the opportunity and flew to Texas. James flew around with the man for about a month and a half, did everything they needed to do, walked into the exam room for his physical and eyesight test knowing full well knowing he was color blind.
"Out of nowhere he could see colors," Ben said. "He never had before. Then passed everything on his physical and they gave him his license and he was like a little kid. He was so happy."
James would go on to get every rating he could and also became an instructor.
"He worked for a couple different airlines here," Ben said. "Ryan, PenAir for a little while and then Spernak Airways this year. He liked Spernak's schedule flying out of Anchorage. So he was flying passengers from Anchorage to the villages. And from different villages to villages and he would bring cargo and stuff like that."
James loved flying but he loved his family even more. The schedule Spernak offered allowed him to spend more time with his family and grandchildren.
"When all of us girls lived at home, every Valentine's Day, he would get each of us a rose," Jenny said. "He told us, it didn't matter if we stayed with him for the rest of his life or we got married. He wanted us to know he was always there for us. When my younger sister Sarah was younger, she didn't have anyone in her life at that point, like a boyfriend, fiancé or husband, and she said that dad gave her a yellow rose and said 'it's okay, I'm the only person you need.'"
James was always available for all of his six children. Making time and responding to calls or texts as fast as he could. As a pastor, he also officiated all of his children's wedding and accepted his new family members with open arms.
"I know right?" Sasha Poelman said. "That was one of his phrases that always sticks with me. He always would say that. He was funny and he was kind and he was dad. He's not just my father in law, he's my dad and I love him very much and I'm so thankful that I'm a part of this family."
James Poelman was the pastor at Frontier Baptist Church in Wasilla. It's currently still a work in progress.
"We were just starting renovations," Sasha said. "Tearing walls down and haven't really finished so it's still in an unfinished state. It was coming together and one of the church members built dad this beautiful pulpit, just incredible."
James Poelman's last sermon was this past Sunday, it in, he may have foretold his future, which is a bit of a comfort for some of his family.
"The night that he died, I was sitting with my wife Sasha and my best friend," Cody Poelman said. "I went to the church because I remembered his last sermon. I got the recording of it. I put it on my mom's hard drive and played it and said, this is incredible. It's like he knew."
James last sermon was from the book of Paul. It talked about eternity taking over for him. He's done everything he can do. I've run my horse-- I've done all I can do.
James Poelman leaves behind his wife Lisa, six children and 12 grandchildren. His memorial service is open to the public and will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. in Wasilla at Frontier Baptist Church.
You can help the family if you'd like by making a donation to their GoFundMe account here.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.