ST. PETERSBURG — Two things come to mind when Maggie Watts thinks of her grandmother.
Oatmeal cookies and apple pie.
Evelyn "Ginny" Van Kesteren was an expert on both.
"She was definitely a Southern woman at heart," said Watts, 27. "She was all about hospitality."
In Mrs. Van Kesteren's case, it didn't matter if those hosting skills were needed on land or in the air, because she could do both.
For most of her life, Mrs. Van Kesteren was a pilot.
It all started with a deal made more than six decades ago with her husband.
The couple met at a USO dance in July of 1941 at Turner Field in Georgia.
Henry Van Kesteren was a 19-year-old buck private who'd just completed airplane mechanic school. She was a dark-haired beauty, 15 and fresh out of high school.
He was smitten. She told everyone she was smart enough to wait until he became an officer.
A couple years later, the pair married. She made him promise to teach her to fly.
He made good on the deal, and for 67 years the couple made their way around the world.
She flew the Powder Puff Derby in 1968 from California to Georgia. They took a Beechcraft Baron plane to Australia and flew MU-2s to Argentina, Chile and Canada. They took a jet from Florida to Venezuela and lived in Paris, Trinidad and Suriname.
Along the way, Mrs. Van Kesteren earned several pilot ratings, including commercial, instrument, helicopter and as a certified co-pilot of the couple's jet.
"Our life has been a storybook of adventure," said Henry Van Kesteren, 89. "There's a certain spirit of independence in being able to get in an airplane and just go. We feel so privileged to be able to do it."
Eventually, the couple settled in downtown St. Petersburg. They got a home on the top floor of Bayfront Towers, where they had a view of Albert Whitted Airport.
Flying wasn't the only passion in Mrs. Van Kesteren's life.
She loved animals, and planted a garden wherever she went, including one she kept on her desk.
She also had a knack for whipping up impromptu dinners and events, often with more energy than those around her.
"She was timeless," said niece Tiddle Wheeler of Maryland.
Mrs. Van Kesteren died at home on July 9. She was 84.
"You'd rarely see her when she wasn't smiling, laughing and enjoying life," her husband said. "I'll just miss everything about her."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.