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Q&A: Centenarian Dan Wenzlaff

Guests at Dan Wenzlaff’s surprise party included family members.  - Liz Warren / Contributed
Guests at Dan Wenzlaff’s surprise party included family members.
— image credit: Liz Warren / Contributed

Daniel H. Wenzlaff celebrated his 100th birthday May 24 with a surprise party at Emeritus Montclair Park. Among the guests: Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, who read a congratulatory letter from Gov. Jay Inslee. Wenzlaff also received a congratulatory letter from President Obama.

Wenzlaff is the oldest resident of Emeritus Montclair Park and is believed to be one of two centenarians in Poulsbo. (Emma Otis, 111, lives at Liberty Shores.)

When Wenzlaff was born, Woodrow Wilson was two months into his presidency, Mexico was embroiled in revolution, constitutional amendments creating the income tax and dictating the direct election of senators were approved, and the Woolworth Building — at the time the largest building in the world — was completed in New York. America’s entry into the Great War was four years away.

In a post-birthday Q&A with the Herald, Wenzlaff reflected on a century of living.

— Childhood: Born May 24, 1913 to Robert and Louise Schmidt Wenzlaff in St. Elizabeth Hospital, Yakima. Wenzlaff had an older sister, Lucille, and a younger sister, Margaret.

Wenzlaff delivered the Yakima Morning Herald on horseback when he was 12 or 13. His father owned and operated a fruit orchard in Zillah. Then the Great Depression hit. “During the panic of ’29, he couldn’t get enough to pay the pickers,” Wenzlaff said. So the family moved to Seattle and the elder Wenzlaff went to work as a millwright at American Can Co.

— Education: Wenzlaff graduated from Roosevelt High School in Seattle; his wife and two daughters also graduated from Roosevelt.

— Career: His first job was as a vehicle mechanic at American Can Co. “After nine years, I was up against a dead end” in his career there, he said. So he drove a cab for six years. He enjoyed the job: “I liked all the different people I met. I saw the good side of people. But I met some stinkers too.”

He later worked for a civil engineering firm in Bellevue, surveying streets and building lots; and then joined the state highway department, where he worked on a survey crew for 25 years. Among the projects he worked on: Interstate 5 from Seattle to Marysville. He retired in 1976.

— Seattle then vs. now: “Seattle grew too fast,” he said. “People back east had no idea what was out here.” During World War II, he and his cab picked up some Army soldiers at King Street Station. “They asked to see an Indian encampment on the way [to Fort Lawton],” he said. — His wife, Phyllis: They met in 1933 or 1934. “She was friend of a girl I went out with,” he said. He and Phyllis dated off and on, mostly because he worked nights at the time. They married in June 1938.

Phyllis worked in the morgue at The Seattle Times. On Nov. 22, 1963, she took a phone call from an Associated Press reporter and became the second person in Seattle to know that President Kennedy had been assassinated. She was an avid card player and league bowler, and credited water aerobics to her long life. She passed away Nov. 11, 2011 at 92.

In their retirement, the Wenzlaffs shuttled cars for Avis Rent a Car.

— Their family: The Wenzlaffs have two daughters, Patricia Smith of Napa and Kitti Stuart of Fairfield, Calif.; son, Bob Wenzlaff and his wife Elaine, of Poulsbo; and five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Dan and Phyllis lived in the same house, in Seattle’s Maple Leaf district, for almost 40 years. They moved to Poulsbo in 1989.

— Top innovations during his lifetime: “The advance of communication and transportation,” he said. “The telephone and TV turned the world around a bit.”

— Worst innovation: Credit cards.

— Longevity in his family: Wenzlaff’s mother lived to 97. An aunt lived to 103. His father lived to 87.

— Favorite sport: Golf. He hasn’t golfed in 15 years, but he likes Village Green Golf Course in Allyn and Jefferson Park Golf Course in Seattle. “I came close to shooting my age once. I shot 84 when I was 83.

— Favorite authors: Zane Grey, Max Brand and Louis L’Amour.

— Favorite music: Accordion. He was also a fan of Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club, a morning variety show on NBC Blue Network/ABC radio (and briefly on television) from 1933 to 1968.

— What’s in his wallet: A hugging license card. He told Mayor Erickson about it during a ribbon-cutting at Emeritus, and she thought he said he had a “hunting license.” He brandished his card and she gave him a hug — and a promise to attend his birthday party. Which she did.

 

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