Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Still Going Strong and Helping Others at 97

97 Never Looked This Good

“Keep busy. Keep Useful.” This upbeat outlook on life keeps Hertzel Harrison active, involved and very independent. (And still quite handsome for a man who’s turning 98 in December!) He drove himself to my home recently for our interview and politely refused any assistance from myself or my husband.

Antonia: Welcome Hertzel. Can you tell me a little about your background?

Hertzel: I was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1917, 10th of 11 children. There were nine boys and two girls. The girls were spoiled rotten.

I wanted to enlist in the military but I had to deal with a medical condition before I could get in. In my childhood I was poisoned from bad milk. This affected, among other things, my depth perception, so I wasn’t eligible to fly until I got well. I got down to 60 lbs. because of this illness!

Eventually, I proved I was well enough to fly as an Aviation Cadet. I went on to become a successful navigator and bombardier. My eyesight was perfect. I was stationed in Texas and served three years.

Antonia: Tell me how you met your wife.

Hertzel: It was during Christmas vacation in high school in Peoria. My buddy Don Heinrick and I were looking for something to do. We went to a friend’s house and that’s where I first saw this blue-eyed blonde, Virginia Steele. She took one look at me and that was it!

We got married and had two boys: Trip was the older and Bob is the younger. My older son passed away in his 60’s but the younger one, Bob, lives nearby.

Antonia: How did you get from Peoria to here in California?

Hertzel: I got into manufacturing. It’s kind of ironic that I got into designing a piece of equipment that dealt with food poisoning. It was a refrigeration/oven unit on wheels. I worked with hospitals and nursing homes.

Originally I did this work while living in Florida with my family. I had the factory in Canada where the parts were assembled into these units.

In 1980 I sold the company, retired and moved my family to Santa Rosa, California.

Antonia: Tell me about retirement life.

Hertzel: I started off by playing lots of golf and the other usual retirement stuff…enjoying life. I quit playing golf when I developed basal cell carcinoma.

Unfortunately, Virginia died of colon cancer in 1991. We were married 56 years! That’s when I began volunteering at the hospital. I found that volunteering was the best thing to occupy my mind. Keep busy. Keep useful.

These days I play duplicate bridge and spend time with my seven grand kids and their kids.

Antonia: Why is volunteering so important to you?

Hertzel: It makes me feel useful, instead of useless. I also did some work at the Senior Center for a while serving meals to seniors. Now I just work at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, answering questions and helping people get where they need to be. I work about 8 hours a week and so far have contributed about 4,000 hours since I started.

Antonia: How do you feel about getting older? Do you consider yourself a role model?

Hertzel: I feel fine. I’m not angry I can’t do all the things I did when I was 21. No, I feel good about the age I’m at. No, I don’t consider myself a role model. I think of myself as lucky!

Antonia: Any advice for those of us coming behind you?

Hertzel: Eat red meat sparingly. If you’re gonna eat meat, eat white meat. I never smoked cigarettes but did smoke a pipe for maybe a couple of years but quit when I was about 35. As far as drinking, a bottle of wine would last me about a month. I don’t really drink.

My other advice is don’t go to sleep angry. Find a way to resolve any problems. Oh, and save your money!

Thanks Hertzel!

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