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102-year old veteran retires from civilian job after 57 years

A WWII veteran's hat. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall)
February 07, 2020

A 102-year old veteran of World War II, who spent the last 57 years as a surveyor for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is finally retiring.

Bob Vollmer’s final day was Wednesday, and he spent that day completing his final surveying job just after a two-hour reception with his co-workers.

“I’m not like a lot of people. You gotta remember, I was raised during the Depression, and you had to work,” Vollmer said when asked what has kept him working all these years.

Vollmer said he’s only quitting because his body was telling him to.

“You’d think by now I’d be getting used to the cold, but you’d never get used to it I guess,” the Navy veteran said.

On Tuesday, he had pie and coffee with with Gov. Eric Holcomb and DNR director Cameron Clark. On Friday, the DNR will honor Vollmer with a retirement dinner party.

“I hate to retire, but you gotta quit sometime,” Vollmer added. “I worked until I thought maybe I couldn’t justify the position. When you get to that point, you say you better quit.”

When asked why he chose Feb. 6 as his first day of retirement, Vollmer said he “had to choose a date.”

“The only date that come to my mind is February the 6. That’s when I got married in 1947,” Vollmer said.

The date made perfect sense for his new chapter in life, although his wife died a few years ago.

“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have anything,” said Vollmer. “So I said ‘well February the 6th that’s where it all started.'”

Vollmer enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941 after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. After returning home after the war, he graduated from Purdue University in 1952 and earned a degree in biological and agricultural engineering. He joined Indiana’s DNR in 1962 collecting field data and confirming boundary lines.

Although the day-to-day operation of his job has changed greatly during his tenure, utilizing electronic GPS equipment now, he still has a lot of passion for his work.

“We used to survey differently — the hard way. Measuring with tape measures and whatnot. That’s pretty much obsolete now,” Volmer said.

Vollmer said he plans on remaining active in retirement, saying he has “a lot of things planned” and he might “do a little experimenting with photography.”

“I don’t know whether I’ll get to them or not; there’s always something to do,” said Vollmer, whose mother lived to be 108. “I have some great-grandkids coming along. Matter of fact, if I can live a little bit longer, I might be a great-great-grandfather,” he told NPR.

“You gotta learn all you can,” he added. “That brain up there, that’s a very important part of your body, and it’ll hold more than most people realize.”

Vollmer is looking forward to new challenges, but said he’s going to look back fondly on his six decades of work, adding that he will miss it.

“You bet I’ll miss this,” he said.

As for the challenges he faces in retirement, he said, “When I go down, I want to go down swingin’.”

“I don’t have a reverse gear in my transmission,” he said. “You don’t want to quit — when you quit, you’re confined to the rocking chair, and that’s where you die.”