Clyde Venneberg is pictured at his Solomon home on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos


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Clyde Venneberg, 91, keeps going, and going …


8/23/2010
By GORDON D. FIEDLER JR. Salina Journal

SOLOMON –A well-padded easy chair would be a coveted gift for most men of a certain age, but Clyde Venneberg isn’t most men — of any age.

“I swore I’d never let the old recliner get me when I retired,” Venneberg said. “I kept busy.”

The 91-year-old Solomon man is still keeping busy with an energetic schedule that would be remarkable for someone a quarter-century his junior.

The WWII Army veteran — who will turn 92 in December — taught vocational agriculture at Solomon High School for 16 years, was a school counselor for three years and retired in 1983 after 18 years as principal.

Here is a typical Clyde Venneberg day:

He rises at 6 a.m. After a breakfast of coffee, toast, warm prune juice and cantaloupe, he rides a stationary bicycle 12 miles then climbs aboard a rowing machine and pulls the oars until about 8 a.m.

“Then I do my devotions,” he said, pointing to a well-worn Bible on the kitchen table.

After that, he pores over the newspaper and works the crossword, Cryptoquip and Jumble.

“I have three things: physical conditioning, mental conditioning and spiritual conditioning,” he said.

“Then I go to the post office and to the store if I have to, then it’s time to ride that bicycle again (for another two miles), row my boat, then at 11 I go to the (Solomon Senior Center) to deliver meals,” he said.

Noontime is the highlight of his day.

“The big thing is the senior center, taking care of the old folks,” he said. And not-so-old folks: some of his meal patrons are former students.

He dines with “the old folks,” helps clean up and is back home usually about 1 p.m. His recliner gets him for a nap, but only until 3 p.m.

He’ll have a post-nap snack, usually something left over from the senior center meal, while he watches television (Deal or No Deal and Jeopardy are his afternoon indulgences).

He’ll hop on the bike again and pedal another two miles (for a daily total of 16 miles) before a dinner of salad and broiled fish, or chicken nuked in the microwave.

Beef is a rare treat these days now that he’s slimmed down from more than 200 pounds to a trim 191.

“I love beef, but I put on pounds,” he said, patting a stomach that is closer to washboard than washtub.

“On Sunday, I treat myself to barbecued steak,” he said.

After dinner, he’ll watch TV — the Royals, Chiefs and Kansas State get top billing — or read.

“I read a book every two weeks,” he said.

He likes history but is also a fan of John Grisham, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet mystery series. He’s already made his way to ” ‘S’ is for Silence.”

He also maintains two gardens, his own and that of his daughter, Marianna Carney, who lives nearby.

“One of my passions is gardening,” he said. “I’ve had a garden ever since I moved here in 1948.”

The nonagenarian dynamo was born in Haysville and graduated from high school in 1937, then worked on several farms.

“I worked a year on the farm for $30 a month,” he said. “I earned enough money, by gosh, to go to college.”

His choice was Kansas State Agricultural College, where he intended to major in agricultural economics.

“I went down there with $350 in my pocket,” he said.

“Tuition was $65 (a semester), room was $10 a month, meals were $30.”

But he managed to cut those expenses when he boarded with the head of the economics department in exchange for work on the professor’s farm east of town. He also landed a dishwashing job at a rooming house catering to graduate students.

He was drafted by the start of his senior year in the fall of 1941 but was given a deferment until he finished in 1942.

“Pearl Harbor changed the whole thing,” he said.

His next letter from the Defense Department told him not to enroll for the spring term.

He served for four years in Europe, rising to the rank of tech sergeant.

“Back then, college was very rare,” he said. “I suppose I was the only college boy in the whole darn company.”

That made him a prime candidate for officer training, which he declined.

On his return from the war, Venneberg changed his major to teaching.

“I don’t know what it was,” he said. “Something about the war changed my mind.”

His first teaching job was at Solomon, after winning over school officials.

“They made a personal trip to interview me,” said the former platoon leader. “They only had one requirement: Could I handle 30 tough kids in high school. I said I took 30 guys through the war, so I think I can handle 30 high school kids. “They said, ‘You got the job.’ ”

One of his first civic activities was becoming a charter member of the Solomon Lions Club. No surprise then, given his disdain for the easy chair, that he’s outlived the other inaugural Lions.

“I saw too many people go to pot that way,” he said of passive relaxation.

“Once they sit there in that chair, they quit living. I’m doing the same things I did 20 years ago, except it takes me twice as long,” said the widower.

“I still mow the lawn, I still mow (his daughter’s) yard, I still till the garden, I still plant a garden, I still walk the football field, I ride my bicycle, I row my boat, clean my house, fix my own meals, do my laundry. I still do all those things, it just takes a little longer to do them.”

Still, his daughter wishes he’d dial back his energy at times.

One snowy winter day several years ago comes to mind.

“I got a call from the senior center one day because he didn’t show up to deliver meals,” Carney said. “They were really worried. I came up here to find him. He was standing on his roof shoveling snow because it was leaking.”

The former 3-pack-day smoker, who quit cold turkey about 10 years ago, shrugs.

“I feel pretty normal,” Venneberg said. “I just don’t see the end right now. I’m still healthy.”

He looks at his daughter. “I’m no burden to you, anyhow.”

“I would say it’s the other way around,” she shot back with a chuckle. “I know I’m spoiled. People my age, their parents are either gone or in a nursing home. I realize how lucky I am.”

nGordon D. Fiedler Jr. can be reached at 822-1407 or by e-mail at [email protected]






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