Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Around the World with Homer Whittaker

“I’m not trying to make the world over. What happens, happens. Nothing I can do about it. Life happens and it shapes you and the world. You don’t shape life,” replies Homer Whittaker when asked what advice he would pass on to people coming along behind him. Instinctively, I know that listening to Homer share about his life, is going to stretch and shape my very own. Born in Brooklyn, New York on August 27, 1920, Homer Whittaker, is just two days shy of his 90th birthday. Homer is introspective yet surprisingly light-hearted. Although he easily displays the depth of emotion which comes from experiencing the serious side of life, he believes life is best not taken too seriously. He shares and jokes with ease.

Homer describes his early life in Brooklyn as typical. His father owned and worked a lumber yard and his mother ran the house. He is eight years older than Mae, his only sister. His father was strict and very much about business, while his mother was the ‘touchy feely’ one. With a mischievous grin Homer laughs, “She was so touchy feely she broke her wrist across my back as she and my father were going to meet with my teachers.” She was none too happy about being called to talk to his teachers. After that she resorted to chasing him with a broom! Not because he misbehaved mind you, merely because he enjoyed life! “Didn’t you enjoy life at that age?” he teases. Homer’s enjoyment of life didn’t stop him from scoring the highest marks in history and math on the New York Regents exam. He credits his older cousin Dorothy for having his back and keeping him out of trouble. They were very close and always knew what the other one was up to. “Everybody needs someone like that and I was lucky to have her.”

At 17 years old, Homer decided to leave Brooklyn and Kelly’s Bar behind. He joined the US Navy with the clear goal of becoming an aviator and earned his wings at 22 years of age. The next twenty-three years found Homer ‘going to sea,’ flying countless combat related missions, piloting myriad seaplanes and bombers. When asked about the responsibility of commanding planes and people, he says, “I didn’t think about it. It can be a grueling day, 18 to 20 hours, with a B5M patrol plane strapped to your ass…” In a flicker it appears as if people and experiences march swiftly through his mind and across his eyes, “If I’m safe, they’re safe, so we were sure as hell gonna be safe,” he adds with his unique mixture of seriousness, care and humor.

While Homer was in the Navy, he married and had four children, three boys and one daughter. “I credit their mother to really doing a beautiful job raising them… I was always out to sea.” His children have gifted him with wonderful grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. When asked what makes for a successful life, he says that generally being pleased with one’s life. What pleases Homer? “My kids. I didn’t get all gooey over them, but I like them. They’re all very different and they’re nice people. I want them to know that I do respect them and their thoughts and I’m sure I don’t always get that across.” Acceptance is what Homer believes makes life and relationships easier and more enjoyable. “But don’t expect it to happen over night,” he adds dryly.

Acceptance has been a deep and important theme throughout his life. Mag, Homer’s wife, enters the room and when asked what keeps them together after 26 years of marriage, they both have quick and different answers. “Old age, neither of us can run away,” laughs Homer. “Inertia,” Mag delivers with comic excellence. Yet, they both agree that acceptance of each other and the other’s ideas and purpose is essential. Homer adds, “It’s important to accept what your partner feels and encourage and support that.” Homer is an exceptionally warm and inviting man, with an openness and ability to touch and be touched on many levels. Life has indeed happened to and around Homer during these 90 years. It has touched and shaped him and he continues to gift others with his touch. Happy Birthday, Homer!

- Mary Hill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Captain for All Ages

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Captain Pete Peteprin was born 100 years ago today on October 29, 1910 in Caro, Michigan. And so his purpose began. Captain Pete feels strongly that it is essential to live a purposeful life and he knew that his purpose was to lead. He believes in Christianity and that he is here to love and help other people when he can. “There are 5 words that are very important to me: Christian love, hope, courage, faith and wisdom of selection.”

He grew up in a lumber family amidst the strong personalities of his father and grandfather. His mother was very loving and provided not only a strong educational foundation, but prophetically enough, a make believe captain uniform when he was just 8! Her death, when he was only 11 years old, was the single most difficult thing in his life. A pastor mentored Pete, solidifying his strong faith and giving him the courage to pick himself up and persevere. He knew he had something to offer when he was asked to be the Captain of his high school football team. He went to Michigan State on an athletic and academic scholarship, completing 2 years before voluntarily enlisting in the Navy in 1931. He re-enlisted again in 1935, honorably serving in the US Navy for 41 years, retiring in 1972. Before retiring he completed his BA and MBA in Business Administration from the Univ. of Michigan. In 1938 he met and married a wonderful woman and research nurse named Emily Hoffman. They wed in the Valley Forge Chapel and shared 60 years together before her passing. They have a terrific son and daughter, four grandchildren and a great grandson.

Captain Pete’s military career is historic. He believes in liberty and that a person or country must be willing to sacrifice and even die for the right to that liberty. Pete was willing and is a Pearl Harbor survivor, returning to battleship row on the USS Helm, a destroyer that shot down 2 Japanese planes and remained afloat with 3 holes blown in her side. His attitude is remarkable and humbling. “It’s an interesting thing. When you are in the war, you just think about winning the war. If I’m killed it was meant to be, if not, wonderful!” Wonderful indeed! Pete has sailed the world, served NATO in Paris, France from 1959 to 1964, recruited European engineers for the space program, evacuated 747 French Foreign Legion and Colonial troops with chest wounds out of Indo China, served in Washington, DC…the list is endless.

As remarkable and as endless is Pete’s love, wisdom and generosity of spirit. He enjoys working out, heart-felt conversations and lunch with friends. His most recently accomplished goal was that all of his grand kids graduated from college. And, Pete is lucky in love! He and his delightful wife Louise have been married for 11 years and his goal is to make her as happy as he can. Captain Pete looks forward to each day with contagious optimism and to eternity with inspiring devotion and love. Happy Birthday, Captain Pete and God bless you always!

- Mary Hill