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Wichita Falls man flies across globe to keep his promise to 90-year-old grandmother

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — After traveling half the world, an Air Force Major returns to Wichita Falls to keep a very special promise to his grandmother.

The Zellener family is a large one, and with Helen Zellener’s 90th birthday over the weekend, she got to bring her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to Wichita Falls.


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But Helen, a former member of the Air Force, and one of her grandchildren have a more unique bond highlighted by a decade-old promise.

Not all 90th birthday parties are the same, and for Helen, a mother of seven, this birthday was extra special.

“It is wonderful every time I can get the whole family together,” Helen said.

This milestone is particularly significant because of the bond built around going to the gym with one of her 17 grandchildren, Matthew Zellner.

“When we started going to the gym together, he would ask me, ‘Grandma, you feel like going to the gym?'” Helen said. “Because I knew he liked going, I would have gone to the gym if I had to crawl on my hands and knees through that door. And he would get me set up in there on the treadmill and he’d come back and check on me every once in a while, and so it was just something we got to do together.”

Matthew has been an active-duty member of the Air Force for 12 years, traveling around the globe. Helen and Matthew’s tradition of going to the gym started because whenever Matthew came home from deployment, they would go and work out.

Ten years ago, however, Matthew couldn’t make it home. And so, a promise was born.

“On her 80th birthday, I was deployed in Afghanistan, and so I wasn’t able to go to her party,” Matthew said. “I wasn’t able to go to the gym with her, and we made a commitment about 10 years ago that for her 90th birthday, we would go to the gym together and work out together.”

And so, he did.

On Matthew’s journey to Wichita Falls, he flew from The Hague in the Netherlands to London, crossed the Atlantic to Dallas, and then drove to Helen’s 90th birthday party—all to keep the promise he made a decade ago.

“I feel that he should… he spent the last week gone,” Helen said. “He should have come back and gone to D.C. and spent that time with his wife. She’s such a sweet person.”

Matthew, sitting in a chair next to his grandmother, laughed.

“Well, [my wife] wouldn’t let me. She said, ‘You made a promise to your grandma, you’re going,’ he said in an impression of his wife. “‘And by gosh for her 90th, you’re going to go to the gym with her.’ So, we did.”

What ties the promise between them to the rest of the family is how important Helen is to the Zellners. Since she has been working out with Matthew, she has been able to make it to 90 years old and hold all nine of her great-grandchildren.


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“When I told her that my wife and I were expecting for the first time a few months ago, I asked if she’d been going to the gym because she’s got to be able to hold our baby,” Mattew said, his voice catching at the thought. “And so, one of the things why I want her to stay in shape is she’s got a lot of little ones to help raise.”

Helen hopes she can hold her 10th great-grandchild in the coming months and has made another goal to meet Matthew at the gym for a workout when she turns 95.

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