There was barely enough room to walk in Village Coffee as Lodians packed the restaurant early Friday morning to celebrate the 100th birthday of World War II veteran Art Schimke.
“This is really a great honor for us because nobody in town is as ‘Lodi’ as Art is,” said Raleigh Morrow, who owns the restaurant along with his wife Juli.
An “everyday attraction,” at Village Coffee, Raleigh said Schimke has occupied the same seat at the same table most mornings for nearly 40 years.
“If someone’s in his seat, he’ll tap the chair with his cane and ask them to move,” Raleigh said.
“He used to walk here almost a mile every day,” Juli said.
Born near Franklin in 1919, Schimke grew up hunting with his brothers and was living in Alpine County — where he still owns a hunting cabin — when in 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
“Right after Pearl Harbor,” Schimke said.
Part of the 10th Mountain Division, Schimke spent most of the war in Italy where he rose to the rank of first sergeant. Despite being shot twice, he survived until the war ended and he was able to take his men on a tour of the battlefield in a C-47 airplane.
“The door wouldn’t stay closed, so they had to tie a rope from the door to the other side of the plane,” Schimke said.
Schimke and his men were already airborne when a storm began, he said, which resulted in everybody but him becoming sick to their stomachs.
As he was the only person not feeling ill, Schimke alerted the pilot and copilot who both went to check on the men, leaving Schimke to fly the plane.
“I thought ‘this is ridiculous, the pilot and copilot are both back there with my men, and I’m up here driving the plane,’” Schimke said with a laugh. “I was so glad to see them come back.”
After receiving an honorable discharge, Schimke worked briefly for a logging company before moving to Lodi — where his mother lived — and took a job in the maintenance department at the General Mills plant that had just opened.
“I worked there for 35 years, best job I ever had,” Schimke said. “I was sorry to see that plant close.”
Before Schimke blew out the candles on his birthday cake on Friday, Pat Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, presented the centenarian with a certificate commemorating Schimke’s achievements both as a soldier and as a Lodian.
“We are honored just to be here this morning to celebrate a great American,” Patrick said. “We thank you for making Lodi, and the world, a better place.”
David Finn, one of Schimke’s best friends, said there is “only 35 years’ difference between the two.”
The two men are neighbors — their cabins are close to one another — and even share the same birthday, Finn said. He was thrilled to see his friend turn 100.
“It’s spectacular because what’s so amazing about Art is he’s very positive. He always looks at life from the bright side,” Finn said. “He’s a good man.”
In between bites of cake, Kurt Schimke, Art’s son, said it was an honor to sit by his father’s side on his 100th birthday. The family held a private party at Harmony Wynelands last week with nearly 100 people in attendance, while Friday’s celebration was open to the public.
“I consider it a great privilege to live in the same household as someone who lived so honorably,” Kurt said. “He’s as pleasant at home as he is here. There’s no secrets with the guy.”
Kurt, who works as a missionary in Uganda, said his students could hardly believe him when he told them his father was turning 100.
“In the part of the world where I work, the average lifespan is 511/2 years,” Kurt said.
Besides eating a bowl of oatmeal at Village Coffee every morning, Art Schimke has one more secret to his longevity.
“One glass of vino rosso every day,” Art said.
© 2019 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)
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