Unfit for World War I, man celebrates centennial

February 19, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Army rejected John Anderson because he wasn't fit enough 77 years ago when he tried to enlist for World War I. Yesterday he celebrated his 100th birthday.

"My heart was most unattractive to the Army or the Navy, and I was forced into pushing paper to serve my country," said Mr. Anderson.

His heart murmur hasn't stopped him from living a full life.

Mr. Anderson began his centennial birthday by going to his 7 a.m. weight-training class at Anne Arundel Community College and working out for an hour.

He started lifting free weights last year, because "it was healthy," he said.

"It'll take you to the requirements for living to be 100 more rapidly than overeating."

The idea came from his daughter, Joan, and her husband, Bill Weingartner, who have been taking advantage of the tuition-free programs at the college.

"It's easy to lose interest in life," said Mr. Weingartner. "We realized that we were turning him into a vegetable with the way we were treating him. We had to push him to come at first, but now he's hooked. He feels more alive and like he's contributing something."

Mr. Anderson started his weight-training career with 2-pound weights and has worked up to 10 pounds.

"We let John go at his own pace," said Al Pastrana, associate professor of physical education and health. "I was a little afraid at first, and so were class members. We'd never seen a 99-year-old man, let alone one lifting weights."

The class is designed to help seniors build muscle mass, strength and flexibility, as well as provide opportunities to socialize.

His fellow senior weight-lifters gave him a party after the class.

"If you can't get out of a chair or bed, then it's all over, and they just count their days," Mr. Pastrana said.

Mr. Anderson has been too busy, though, to count the days that have gone by or even those yet to come.

The son of a wood engraver who emigrated from Holland, Mr. Anderson was born in New Jersey in 1894. He went into real estate, settling with his wife, daughter and son on Long Island during the Depression. He worked to create a volunteer fire department and served on a local economic council. During World War II, he served in civil defense programs. Later, he was an inspector in the New York City water department until he retired at age 80.

Several years ago he moved to Arnold to be with his daughter and son-in-law, whom he calls "two angels." He goes dancing with them, walks around the neighborhood and reads the New York Times.

He'll have a family party today.

In his lifetime, he has followed the careers of 19 presidents and witnessed the development of air and space flight as well as the creation of radio, telephones and television. He saw Prohibition, the Soviet Union, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall come and go, following events closely in the Times.

Having experienced two world wars, Mr. Anderson said he's now worried about the situation in Bosnia.

"When you read that the leaders or managers of a nation are engaged in murdering sections of the population, the department of creation [God] takes over," he said. "This is exactly what Hitler was doing, and this is exactly what we're going through again. It's a test. Do not sell your soul for shekels."

His philosophy, he said, is based on his firm belief in the Bahai faith, which accepts all religions as one and emphasizes world unity.

Mr. Anderson said he believes it is his faith that has kept him alive.

"Poppa upstairs. That's why I've lived so long," he said.

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