Born and raised in Chicago in 1917, Carl considers his childhood to be during the Great Depression. His father developed tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitarium when Carl was a young boy so he grew up with his two sisters and they were raised by his mother. I asked him what that was like to have his father sent away for an illness, never to return?
“You get used to it.” He nodded. “Kids are very adaptable. Besides, my mother was very capable. She was a good mother.”
He went on to tell me they lived on welfare like most people in those days, but they owned the building they lived in and the first floor was a candy shop. They listened to the radio often as the main source of entertainment. This interested me since he lived through so many evolutions of technology; I was curious what he thought was the most exciting to see. Was it the television, the computer, cell phone?
“Probably the refrigerator.” He said without missing a beat.
“The fridge?” I was flabbergasted. Not the TV? Not Angry Birds?
“Yeah, or maybe it was the toaster. We had one of those toasters you had to watch and then flip over or else it would burn.” He said as he demonstrated with his hands.
“Was that your main source of entertainment? What else did you do?” I asked.
“The World’s Fair in 1933 was big. We rode our bikes there and got in for free. They had fun things like that. If you rode your bike, you got in free or if you had freckles, you got in for free.”
“Did you ride your bike often?”
“Yes, I biked everywhere; all over Chicago. I was very active. I played baseball, ice skate, and tennis. I played tennis from when I was 14 until I was 92.”
He also rode his bike to the library, borrowing three to four books at a time. It got to the point where there were no more books for him so he had to ride his bike to the library down town.
Carl married his high school sweetheart and went to work for Stewart Warner doing manual labor gradually climbing the ladder to a machine operator.
Carl eventually retired as an instructor, consultant, and assistant foreman of Stewart Warner. He also had the privilege of training young students entering the work force that eventually went on to fight in WWII. He showed me old letters and photos of the young men he kept in touch with over the stretch of the war.
After retiring, Carl and his first wife split and he spent time traveling on cruises and meeting new friends. He kept busy with tennis, fishing, and writing. On a trip to the Grand Canyon, Carl couldn’t help but admire the beautiful scenery in front of him and he started singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” and every day of his trip, his fellow travelers requested that he sing it. He usually reserved singing for the shower, but after that trip he began singing in public at the Mather Edgewater luncheons, YMCA, and other senior centers.
During a game of bowling, Carl met a lady named Mary Anne and was immediately smitten. They fell in love and married at the age of 75. He even wrote her this lovely poem:
A Lucky Man
I consider myself a very lucky man,
Because of the way I met my Mary Ann.
It happened at the Howard Bowl
Ever since then I’ve been on a roll.
When I asked her out for “coffee and,”
She said yes, and gave me her hand.
She asked me to come to her house for dinner,
And I soon found out she was a winner.
When we went to Alaska on a cruise
We ignited one another’s fuse,
And while the fuse was burning,
About each other we were learning.
We soon knew in our hearts,
It was time to stop living apart.
Carl enjoyed writing and sending letters to newspapers. Several snippets were published, including this:
“My family is treating me like a hero just because I am going to be 95 years old. How lucky can I be to have a family like that?”
This snippet caught the attention of radio personality, Jonathan Brandmeier from WGN. Carl received a phone call from Jonathan wishing him a very happy birthday. They got to talking and Carl mentioned that he does 50 push-ups a day and wants to continue doing it until he gets into the book of World Records. Jonathan was so inspired that he invited Carl down to the studio to demonstrate. Here is a clip of Carl doing push-ups in the studio on the show.
He told me, “I eat healthy, never smoked in my life, keep busy, meditate, and got lucky.” He smiled at me, “I also like to think over old times.” He showed me more articles and clippings that he’s written to the paper. He’s got a collection of writings that have been printed and he’s quite proud. Most notably, a letter he wrote in 2006 to the Tribune predicting the downfall of the economy if the banks continued lending money.
“My family calls me a pessimist, but I like to think of myself as a pragmatist. I call it like I see it.” He nodded in my direction.
“So what advice do you have for future generations?” I asked.
“I worry about job growth. Kids won’t have it so easy, but they’ll see a lot of advances in technology. I’ve seen so many changes in my lifetime and it’s amazing. They’re already talking about cars that drive themselves!” He stared ahead at his TV for a moment and then said, “I also think women are going to rule the world.”
“Really?” I asked, intrigued by his assessment.
“From what I've seen in my lifetime, women have progressed so much that they can rule the world. They used to not be able to vote when I was born. They used to have to wear skirts all the time. Now I wouldn't be surprised to see a woman president in my lifetime.”
As a tribute to that sentiment, Carl would like to add that he is certain his mother was the one who invented frozen bananas.