Life is no picnic, but at 105 years, he does the best he can

Aubrey Yawitz is surrounded by his children (from left) Nancy, Richard, Carol and Joanne for his 105th birthday.

ELLEN FUTTERMAN, Editor-in-Chief

When Nancy Yawitz told me recently that her father, Aubrey Yawitz, had turned 105 earlier this month, I knew I wanted to meet him. And soon. 

On Sunday, I went to the Clayton home Aubrey has lived in since 1954 and now shares with Nancy, who helps take care of him. The house is two stories, which means Aubrey must navigate steps, especially since his bedroom/ office are on the second floor. 

According to Nancy, he was able to walk up and down on his own until seven years ago, when he started using a chair lift that was installed, which he calls his ski lift. 

In fact, says Nancy, her dad was able to take short walks in the neighborhood, dress himself and be home alone for short periods of time until a few months ago. 

He has macular degeneration and poor hearing. His legs give him trouble, which affect his gait and balance.

Nearly 40 years after he graduated from Washington University in 1937, he got his master’s degree in business administration from Webster University. He worked in the furniture business for roughly 20 years but left to take a job with the government as a program analyst and operations research analyst. He retired, after 25 years there, at age 76. 

Today, he has a device that magnifies printed material and projects it onto a TV screen so he can read magazine and newspaper headlines.

“I don’t have time to read the stories,” he told me. “But I like to keep up with the headlines.”

When I asked him what it’s like to be 105, he countered without missing a beat: “It’s not easy, it’s not fun, it’s no picnic. I do the best I can.” 

He gave up watching TV because he can’t hear it but said he misses “Amos & Andy.” Nancy reminded him that he had seen a lot of television since the days of “Amos & Andy,” to which he added that he had liked to watch the news and “Jeopardy.”

And while his short-term recollection is limited, his long-term memory runs deep. He told me he weighed 12 pounds when he was born, and at approximately six months of age, won a blue ribbon in a baby show. He beat out all the 1-year-olds.

He had an older brother and younger sister, who died at 80 and 90 years, respectively. He married the former Juanita Marglous on his 31st birthday in 1947; the couple had four children: Carol, Joanne, Richard and Nancy as well as four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. 

Juanita, who co-founded Camp Pegnita in Kirkwood, passed away at age 88 after she and Aubrey had celebrated 63 years of marriage. He says he misses her every day.

When he was 81, he wrote a 19-page “autobiography” for his granddaughter who was 12 at the time. She chose to write about her grandfather for a school assignment because he had the “most interesting life” of anyone she knew. To help her, he jotted down some details, starting with the birth of his parents. He also tracked the various addresses in St. Louis where he had lived, his education, his distinguished military service where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, his employment history, his medical history, and his awards, recognitions and milestone celebrations. 

As he handed me a copy of this document, it hit me how lucky the family was to have this chronology, to know where their father, grandfather, and great grandfather had been — and when — and to learn about some of the experiences that were instrumental in his life, written in his own words. 

This included celebrating his bar mitzvah in 1929; working part-time during high school in the fireworks department of Barney’s Army Goods downtown and traveling all over the world on a dilapidated Army ship where he was a troop movement officer, gun crew commander and decoder.

Our ship, since its top speed was only 10 knots, was too slow for the convoy, so we traveled alone. Our voyage was especially hazardous because of the slow speed, our explosive cargo and the abundance of submarines. Somehow, nothing attacked us. I think the submarines certainly saw us but didn’t want to waste a torpedo on such a miserable old tub.

For his 105th birthday, his children gathered in St. Louis to celebrate. It was especially sweet given that last year, for his 104th birthday, COVID prevented them all getting together, though he was treated to a neighborhood car parade.

When he turned 100, the children at the nearby elementary school threw him a party, with each writing him a special card. The kids had gotten to know him from his daily morn-ing walks to and from the school — walks he no longer can physically muster. 

The frustration of not being able to do what he was once could do — even as recently as three months ago — is not lost on Aubrey or for that matter, Nancy. And yet he’s more independent than most centenarians, sleeping in his own bed, setting an alarm clock daily to wake him at 7:15 a.m., eating meals at the kitchen table, reading the news headlines, keeping up and doing the best he can.

As I was leaving, Nancy asked if I felt able to write something about her dad. “I know he’s 105 but is that enough?” she wondered.

I looked at her and told her what he had told me. “I do the best I can.” 

And really, at any age, isn’t that all we can do?