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Eric Shackle Writes: California's Centenarian Columnist

Eric Shackle interviews Frank Pelatowski who, at the age of 100, is still writing lively columns for a newspaper in California.

Thirty years ago Californian Frank Pelatowski decided that as he had reached the age of 70 he would stop writing his weekly column in his local newspaper, the Mariposa Gazette, http://www.mariposagazette.com/ and enjoy retired life. Now, as a sprightly centenarian, he has revived the feature, which means he is probably the world's oldest columnist.

His nearest rivals for the title are thought to be Australia's Ken Sillcock (97) http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=382345&rel_no=1 and Britain's Henry Jackson (95) http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=382207&rel_no=1

'I decided to come back because I've lived long enough to set one record and the Gazette has been in print long enough to set another,' he says. 'You see, not only is the Gazette an old paper, it's the oldest continuously-published weekly newspaper in all of California. On Jan. 20, 2004 it turned 150 years old, having never missed an issue.

'Some people say I have a lot of energy for a 100-year-old man. They may be right. I'm not only going to write new columns, but I'm still doing other writing, including a book titled "The Wit and Wisdom of Frank Pelatowski", which will be in bookstores later this year.'

Frank was born in Massachusetts on August 10, 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt was his nation's president. His parents were Polish immigrants. He grew up in Connecticut, with 10 brothers and sisters.

In 1923, after leaving High School at 16, he joined the U.S. Navy - so young that he needed a note from his parents. He served on the then new battleship USS West Virginia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_West_Virginia_(BB-48) cruising down the Atlantic coast, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand.

Nearly 20 years later, in World War II, the Navy recalled him to serve a second term, as a chief petty officer.

Here are extracts from Frank's website: http://pelatowski.com/

I've been married twice, both wives died while married to me. I have no children, but consider many children to be like grandchildren to me.

Like my father before me, I spent most of my life as a builder. I was also involved in the community; I even ran for office once - and lost.

That was enough of politics; but I served for years as an officer in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lions Club and other groups right here in Mariposa.

I've been a writer all my life, and my work has appeared in several publications. I've completed children's books and have two or three unfinished manuscripts in my files.

Though I moved 'down the hill' and have lived in Merced for many years, I have fond memories of Mariposa County and have many friends in the area.

I'm hoping to visit often, to renew old friendships and create new ones. I want to meet Gazette readers and learn about their lives.
Frank lives in an old folks' home in Merced. Like most centenarians, he has failing eyesight. He dictates his columns to his friend and fellow writer David Burke, who hopes to syndicate them to other newspapers as well.

Frank's first column written after he turned 100 was titled 'World's oldest column returns to the Gazette' http://www.mariposagazette.com/opinion/contentview.asp?c=239967

His second column was a nostalgic story about his Navy days, called 'Rollin' in my sweet hammock's arms' http://www.mariposagazette.com/opinion/contentview.asp?c=240503.

Frank has also made a YouTube video that's well worth checking out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9WLE1wBuYM&eurl=http://worldsoldestcolumnist.blogspot.com/

He says he likes writing stories with happy endings.

FOOTNOTES. Merced (population 210,554) is a county in California's Central Valley, north of Fresno and and southeast of San Jose. Mariposa (population 1,373) is the county seat (administrative center) of Mariposa County. Its name is the Spanish word for 'butterfly', after early explorers saw flocks of Monarch butterflies http://www.kidzone.ws/animals/monarch_butterfly.htm there. Mariposa and Merced, 40 miles apart, both call themselves 'The Gateway to Yosemite.' Mariposa being 30 miles from the national park.

The passenger liner SS (Steam Ship) Mariposa maintained a regular service linking the US west coast with Australia and New Zealand before WWII, when she became a US Navy transport troopship. http://www.pinetreeline.org/metz/photos/pm-55c.html

Here's another centenarian journalist!

Mildred Heath, of Overton, Nebraska, is only five months younger than Frank Pelatowski. Born on January 4, 1908, she works five days a week as the Overton correspondent of the Beacon (Nebraska) Observer. She may be the world's oldest working journalist, but her present job does not qualify her to compete for the 'oldest columnist' crown.

'Residents of Overton, a farm town of 646 people east of Lexington, marvel at Heath's energy,' says Omaha World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel. http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=1219&u_sid=10224210 'The only concession to her 100 years is an electric scooter she rides one block to work. She broke her hip five or six years ago...

'Her main chores are answering the phone and filing photographs, although she still calls local residents to check for news of their families. She asks most people to write up their items and drop them off at the paper, but she still uses an electric typewriter regularly.'


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