100 Years and Counting

When I tell people I’m 100 years old, their eyes widen like they’re looking at a rare gem. I suppose I am, but I don’t see it that way. I have three crucial things that I think have helped me live this long. One: I take a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day. This probably does nothing, but it’s one of the only traditions I’ve kept all these years to keep me healthy. Two: I have good genes. My mother lived to be 90 and a few of her relatives lived past 90. Three: people in my life. This is the most important of all. The many wonderful people in my life, the ones still around and who have passed, have all left an imprint on my heart. Without the ability to go out and socialize with people, I don’t think I would have lived this long. I’ve lived a happy, full life that has carried me into many decades. I’ve watched the world change before my eyes, and I’ve changed with it. The experiences I’ve had have given me the strength and happiness to keep living a life full of happiness and friendship.

I was born on July 17, 1917 in Newport, Kentucky. I was the eldest of three boys. My mother’s side was German, and my father’s family was Italian, so our household was mixture of both cultures. My father reworked wool for a living. When I was three, we moved to Ft. Thomas where I lived for the rest of my childhood. There, our house sat atop a hill overlooking Lunken Airport. We spent our evening watching the airplanes take off. I didn’t worry so much about the great noise of the engines. I was intrigued by the size of the planes and dreamed of flying one someday.

Me (left) with my brothers Dave and Jim, c. 1930s.

I always enjoyed school because I loved learning new things. The school had great teachers, some of which were priests. I have a fond memory from the third grade when a priest came into our class one day to talk about heaven. He told us, “heaven, is seeing God face to face.” At the time, I couldn’t comprehend what that meant, but I do now. That quote from him is something I’ll never forget because the older I got, the more it resonated with me.

As I grew up, I made great friends that I liked to bum around with. We did lots of things together like football, tennis, swimming, and sometimes we’d go out on dates with girls together. I remained close with two guys, Johnny and Jerry, for decades. It was through Johnny, that I met my wife, Mary. I grew up with Johnny and Jerry and got to know their families. Mary was five years younger than me, but she and I were interested in each other from a young age. Over time, we became more serious. Mary was attractive; she wore hats and had beautiful eyes. She was the type of person you wanted to be around, and she loved me.

• • •

I did well in my classes and skipped the seventh and eighth grade. I began high school by age 12 at Covington Latin High School. This school was mostly academic, and the workload was heavy. I learned things like trigonometry, German, and Latin. Latin was the hardest, of course, but I got by. I graduated high school at 16 and immediately began at Xavier University.

I was the only one in my family to go to college. My younger brothers chose to work with my father in the mill. I felt I had so much more to learn. For me, college was more about educating the mind and heart than it was about obtaining money. I earned a Bachelor of Arts where through the degree I studied literature, languages, and history. I loved spending time reading poetry and indulging in the works of Shakespeare.

A portrait of me when I was about 18.

In my fourth year of college in 1937, I decided to take a heating/ air conditioning class. At the time, it was just coming to the surface, so I felt it was a good business to get into. After taking the class and graduating college, I began working within the heating/air conditioning business until I went into the United States Air Corps in 1941 in the wake of the second world war. Unsure of what was to come, I proposed to Mary before going into the service. It wasn’t some lavish proposal, I knew I loved her and she felt the same.

Me and Mary, c. 1940.

In the service, I was a flight instructor for B-17 planes at Wright-Patterson in Dayton. The planes were bombers used in Europe against the Germans. I never had to go overseas, which I was thankful for, but there were moments when I feared for my life. I think the boldest thing I’ve ever done was during my time in uniform. I was once flying a plane with five other passengers, when suddenly the engine caught fire. I couldn’t land easily without the risk of the plane exploding. But before doing anything else, before checking for other solutions, I stopped to pray. I knew we couldn’t jump or put the fire out, so I had no choice but to land it despite the risks. I believe my bold choice to pray helped me land the plane safely.

Me during my time in the service in the 1940s.

Even so, to be alone on Christmas my first year in the service was one of the lowest points of my life. I remember the heavy, lonely feeling I held in my heart that day. I couldn’t be with my family or fiancée. That’s one day I never want to relive.

When the war was coming to an end, I was stationed in Lockburn in Columbus, Ohio. In April of 1945, Mary became my wife and we started our family soon after. Mary and I had our first child, a baby girl named Katie, in March 1946. In 1947, we had our second child Patty. It was wonderful to begin building a family with my beautiful wife.

On our wedding day, 1945.

I was still interested in the heating and cooling business, so I left the Air Corps to work for an air conditioning company that wanted a Columbus office. I enjoyed the business, but it didn’t last long because the boss passed away at 80 years old. The business owner asked me to come back to Cincinnati to become the vice president. I agreed and took my family back to southern Ohio.

In 1948 we moved into a house on Sunridge Drive, a home with dozens of fond memories. My wife and I were very social and quickly made friends with about eight couples on the block. We loved hanging out together. We’d have dinners, play bridge, and sometimes host parties. One of our favorites was the annual derby party. It was thanks to those friends that I learned how to make mint juleps, a drink I’m very fond of. Only two women in the group are still alive today besides me. I get lunch with one of them at a local restaurant every Saturday, and sometimes the other woman, too. It keeps me going to be with such old friends and reminisce after all these years.

Our house on Sunridge Drive, 1949.

While living on Sunridge Drive, my wife and I bore three more children, another girl and one boy. Then after moving once more, we had our youngest boy. It was interesting raising five childr­­­en with different personalities and habits. I think my wife and I raised them well. When I was able to get off, we would all pile into the car and go to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for family vacations. I loved watching my children grow.

Me with four of my five children, c. 1950s.

Not long after we moved back to Cincinnati, the owner sold the business, so I had to look for another job. This wasn’t too hard since I had cultivated a lot of experience. I got a new air conditioning job and stayed with the company until I retired. I loved that job. I felt like I was doing something meaningful. We did a lot of commercial installations include big buildings in Downtown Cincinnati, like Duke Convention Center, The University of Cincinnati, and General Electric. I put a lot of time and energy into the job all while trying to help my wife raise our five children.

In 1960, my family and I moved to our current home in Finneytown, OH. Just a short while after settling into the new place, I decided on a whim to purchase an organ. Why not? I had always loved music. I took lessons once a week and learned the chords. Over time, I could play quite well. I knew about 12 songs, one of my favorites being “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra.

When I reached my 50s, I picked up a new hobby. Work was busy, and I wanted a fun diversion to keep me sane. So, I learned how to ice skate. I loved it. The feel of the ice under my skates relaxed me after a long day. Over the course of my skating “career,” I broke my arm three different times. The last time was the worst because I’d broken my arm at the joint, so I couldn’t do much of anything with it. That’s how badly it was broken. After that third break, my wife was livid. She’d been waiting on me, hand and foot, through each recovery. After the third, she threatened to divorce me if I kept skating. Well, I believed her, so I quit. Anyway, I enjoyed my time as a skater, and I’m glad I tried it.

A gag gift given to me about my times ice skating.

Before retiring, I also began dressing up as Santa Claus around the holidays to visit families in my neighborhood. I’d visit at least six families until word spread around and I visited more. It was wonderful to see the look of wonder on the children’s faces at seeing Santa. I did this every Christmas for about 20 years.

Here I am with a twinkle in my eye and nose like a cherry.

After all the kids grew up, my wife and I took bigger trips with just the two of us. We went to many places including The Garden of Gethsemane, Rome, Paris, Acapulco, and all kinds of cruises around the globe. I loved those trips because it gave me a chance to see the world with the love of my life by my side.

Mary and I on a cruise sometime in the 1970s.

I retired on my 65th birthday in 1982. Shortly after, my wife and I started volunteering. Every Thursday, my wife would volunteer at Good Samaritan, and I would began volunteering there and at other charitable organizations. I spent my time at soup kitchens, Hospice, St. Vincent De Paul, and at my church as a Sunday school teacher. Through my faith, I learned the importance of helping others. I volunteered because it was the right thing to do, and in my heart, I had a desire to serve others. I helped with different organizations for about 20 years.

My favorite charity work I have done is through the Hamilton County Correctional Facility. Through a friend, I met a nun who ministered to prisoners looking for spiritual guidance. After hearing of her work, I felt called to help the people that many turn away from. I worked with the church and became a chaplain. I felt the Holy Spirit was with me on my first visit. I was able to see people as humans that make mistakes rather than vicious criminals. I never asked what the inmates did because I didn’t want to meet them through a foggy lens. As a chaplain, I brought inmates rosaries, bibles, and sometimes even eyeglasses. It all started when a woman I spoke to asked if I’d be able to get her glasses. After doing so, word spread around that this could happen, and I began to bring more and more for the inmates. Giving glasses was also special because it helped inmates see what they couldn’t before, and that’s important in faith and in life. I later learned that the woman who asked me was in jail for murdering her husband. What she did, didn’t matter to me. She needed help, and I gave it. I feel that’s what God would want me to do.

By the 1990s, I was in search of another hobby. I was chatting with a neighbor one day that was telling me about how he taught a painting class at the local senior center. I wasn’t so sure, since I hadn’t really painted before, but he insisted and told me he’d “set me up.” I went go to the class every Tuesday. At first my paintings were elementary, but over time I really improved. I’ve found that patience is all it takes. What I mean is, I don’t just look at a picture of a person to model, I’m sort of an engineering painter. I map out my subject, measure the distances between the eyes, and from the eyes to the nose. Everything has to be precise, and I think that’s why I’ve improved over the years.

An example of my mapping process.

I became a part of a religious group through my church and over time, I painted everyone in the group. Anyone who joined, I painted. I wanted a way to preserve all the people I knew. Portraits give people a way to live on after they pass. I liked that idea, so portraits became my favorite type of subject to paint. When the church saw some of my work, they asked to display them in the undercroft below the church. I have about 50 paintings hanging in the church and school now.

In 2006, Alzheimer’s had destroyed my wife’s mind. I did my best to care for her, but it was difficult to do alone. I was thankful for my eldest daughter, Katie, who moved from her Arizona home to help me take care of her mother. She took care of the house while I took care of Mary. Watching her deteriorate was heartbreaking. We had spent so many happy years together and it hurt to know that she could barely remember any of those years. Most of the time, she wouldn’t even recognize me. On May 30, I was shocked when I entered her room that morning to find her arms outstretched and asking for me by name. She had finally remembered me. I went to her, taking her in my arms. Just five minutes later though, she had forgotten me again and was lying down. I sat by her bedside, clasping her hand. It was as if after that moment of recognition, the disease had succumbed her once and for all. I held her hand until her heart stopped beating. Though it hurt to let her go, I knew it was her time. After losing your wife to Alzheimer’s, it’s hard to say something that sounds right. At least now, she wasn’t living for anyone else’s benefit. Yes, I was sad to lose her, but I was also thankful she was gone because it meant that she wasn’t hurting anymore. She was free to walk with Jesus now.

I was thankful to have my family and friends to lift me up after the loss. It was difficult to be in the house without my wife, but over time I healed and did my best to get by. A year later, I made a new friend named Sylvia. She was there for me when I needed to talk about my wife, which was comforting. I got to spend a couple of years with her before I had to watch her die, too. Just like my wife, I was holding her hand as she passed.

Sylvia and me, 2007.

Today, I spend time with another woman I met through one of the weekly Perkins breakfasts that I go to with my old friend just last year. She and I have grown close over the years, and I’m thankful for that. Marge and I go on a date once a week and out to breakfast once a week too. We also talk on the phone every day. She keeps my mind agile. Without meeting new people, I don’t think I could have lived so long. After watching so many old friends die, developing new friends to lean on is what has kept me from falling into a pit of despair. People are the fire that keep me alive and happy.

Me with Marge on my 100th birthday in 2017.

I feel that right now, I’m at my happiest point because reaching 100 was such a rare and special milestone to cross. I have great friends and family around me that keep me busy. I’m still in the painting class today and the class is a wonderful, social environment. We all talk more than we paint. It’s good for me. If I didn’t get involved in painting, I wouldn’t have anything to do. I think having an outlet for creativity is also part of my secret to living so long. At this point in my life, if I didn’t have my painting, I wouldn’t have anything to do with my creative need. All my life, I searched for an outlet of creativity and did whatever interested me at the time. I’m glad that there was always something for me to do.

Cartoon a friend of drew for me.

Being 100, I’ve watched many friends and family die before me. It hasn’t been easy, but it has helped me prepare for the end of my own journey. I’ve gotten to the point now that I’ve accepted that everyone must die at some point. I’ve come to terms with my own mortality from outliving many of my close friends. Whenever it’s my time to go, I feel that I’m ready. I’ve lived a marvelous life full of amazing people and experiences. I’ve learned from my many years on Earth that you must love and help others to find true happiness. Every day must be cherished, and every day must be spent with people. People and God are what kept me alive all of these years. The length of the life isn’t important. It’s the quality of the life that matters.

This is the story of Robert “Bob” Barbara

Bob currently lives in Cincinnati with his eldest daughter Katie, who helps take care of him. Bob has reached a milestone that not many can say they’ve crossed, living to be over 100. He has lived a prosperous life where he always did what made him happy and enjoyed every moment of it. On July 17, 2018 (near the time of this story’s initial publication), Bob will be turning 101! He plans to celebrate with his five kids and their families. Bob has 12 grandkids and 9 great-grandkids, whom he loves very much. Bob created/printed all of the signs and decorations used for the 1995 World Championship Skating Tournament that took place in Cincinnati. It’s one of his proudest achievements. He has been a member of a religious group called the Men of Milford for 50 years, where he attends annual retreats and has served as a retreat master. Bob still goes to his paint class every Tuesday. He sent a copy of his painting of Pope John Paul II that he sent a copy of to The Vatican. They sent him a thank you letter back that he has framed and hung up in his kitchen next to the painting. He’s currently working on the portrait on his third doctor, Justin. These days, Bob likes to spend time with his daughter or Marge. He is looking forward to his next birthday and living for as long as The Lord allows him to live.

Bob Barbara’s painting of Pope John Paul II.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |

Life Log #100

This story first touched our hearts on June 24, 2018.

Read it on its original source: https://ourlifelogs.com/2018/06/27/100-years-and-counting/




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