Living Life to its Fullest
GLOVERSVILLE – Gilbert Wendt doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Soon to be 100, the Gloversville resident is ready for just about any adventure, from dancing with the ladies to a day at the Saratoga Race Course to buying a 1965 classic Mustang to ride around the lake in.
Take his 92nd birthday, for example. Wendt was in St. Maarten with his family celebrating his birthday when he decided he wanted to try something a little different.
“I wanted to get my ear pierced,” said Wendt, who sports a tiny diamond stud in his left earlobe, a birthday gift this year from the same jeweler who initially did the ear piercing.
Wendt will turn 100 on July 23 with an event for close friends and family to help celebrate the event. But he has been celebrating the milestone since March when about 60 friends and family members all gathered in St. Maarten to celebrate his upcoming centennial birthday.
“I guess I’ll celebrate it all year,” said Wendt, father to Nancy Komar of Hyde Park, Mark Wendt of Rockwood and Patti Noble of Gloversville.
It is that attitude of live each day like it is a gift that Wendt has carried with him through almost 10 decades of family, friends and adventures.
Originally from Michigan, Wendt moved to Fulton County when he was around 13. His grandparents owned a farm in Rockwood and he lived with them while attending classes a one-room school house.
“My grandparents lived up on [Route] 10A and I stayed with them just so I could go to school someplace,” said Wendt, who graduated from Gloversville High School in 1936.
On July 26, 1941, Wendt joined the Army Air Corps. He had originally planned to be an officer in the Navy, but a bout with typhoid fever set him back for a year.
“I [joined the air corps] because I basically didn’t want to walk,” said Wendt, with a laugh. “And I knew if I was in the Army [as an] infantryman, I’d be doing a lot of walking.”
When he left the air corps four and a half years later, he was a master sargeant and had served as the squadron tech inspector.
“I was in charge of making sure all the planes were working,” said Wendt.
Mark Wendt pointed out that his father underplays his role in the service and understates what he went through.
“He went through a lot during the war,” said Mark Wendt. “If you slam a door today, he still jumps.”
Shortly after coming home from the war, Wendt met his future wife, Concetta “Connie” Renda. They married in 1947 and were married until her death in 1996.
Wendt still lives in the home they shared and raised their children in.
Around his 86th birthday, Wendt celebrated it by buying himself a 1965 Mustang.
“When dad was driving, he use to drive it all around the [Great Sacandaga] Lake,” said Noble. “He was quite the chick magnet.”
He also celebrates his birthdays by attending opening day at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs.
“I celebrate my birthday [at the race track] because the whole family can get together,” said Wendt, who started going to the track on opening day in the 1940s. “I started going with friends of mine and we would take the bus every Wednesday.”
“Then it became a family-thing,” said Noble, adding that a couple of the family members get to the race track early to secure a picnic table for the day.
Wendt attributes his long, active life to the grace of God.
“This man is an anomaly,” said Noble. “If you listen to some of the stories he has told, he should have gone up in flames dozens of times.”
Noting that he was once a “heavy smoker” and had been in situations that should have cost him his life, as well as battle a couple of serious illnesses when he was young, Wendt said, “It’s up to God – I can’t have any other explantation – just some sort of guidance.”
Wendt, who use to sketch in charcoal before his eyesight started to go, is also a good cook, according t family members.
“He made my wedding cake for my first marriage using Gram’s recipe,” said Noble. “This wasn’t a rinky dink, little cake, it was four tiers and had the rose petals and all.”
“He makes a killer pie crust,” added Mark Wendt.
Continuing, Noble said she feels it is the way her dad looks at life, as well as good genes and a love for friends, family and life that has helped him have a long, full life.
“Dad has always eaten and drank what he wanted to,” said Noble. “And we all get together and celebrate family and friends and have lots of good food and drink.”
But Wendt has a simple view of the reason he has lived so long.
“I always said. ‘It’s a good landing if you walk away,'” he quipped.