Joe Jurnecka celebrates 100

Joe Jurnecka celebrated his 100th birthday last Thursday morning while volunteering on the Grey Bears brown bag line. At 8am, 75 other volunteers, including daughter Wendy, stopped filling bags with vegetables, greens, oranges, apples and strawberries to sing Happy Birthday to the new centenarian. Cheers followed as he handily blew out the candles on a carrot cake.

“It’s really no big deal,” Joe remarked, “but I really appreciate everyone’s kindness.”

A fixture at Grey Bears the past seven years, Joe was born in 1917 and grew up in Chicago. “I opened my first bank account in 1929 when I was 12. That year the depression hit, the bank closed and I lost it all. We were living in SW Chicago and I still remember the smell of the stockyards even though it was 10 miles away. I saw men staying warm during the winter around fires.”

“My parents came through Ellis Island. When I was 9 years old, my mother took me by ship back to Czechoslovakia where we spent the summer. I got to meet all of my relatives. Over the years I have visited my relatives in the Czech Republic many times. All of my kids have been there, and our relatives come and visit us here, too. I have a cousin there who turned 103 last year. They had a big celebration for her.”

“I lost my wife, Ruth, 13 years ago. She was in perfect health up until she went. We met at a dance after WWII in Chicago at the Knickerbocker Hotel. During the war, Ruth was a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. 25,000 women applied to be pilots, and 1,178 made it through the program. 39 women were killed carrying out their duties in the one year it was in existence. Jenette Cochran was a famous aviatrix, and talked the general into letting them fly. Returning male pilots came back and complained about the women pilots, and the Air Force abandoned the program. These brave women pilots flew for a year and were never honored for their service. More than 50 years later, they were honored with Congressional Gold Medals. I went to Washington DC to accept the medal for my wife posthumously.”

“We moved to Santa Cruz 35 years ago from Chatsworth – where Roy Rogers lived – for a better climate and to be near one of my children. We bought a 3 bedroom, 3 bath house on a half-acre in Aptos for $125,000. I’ve been living alone there for the past 13 years, still cooking for myself and doing all the housework.”

“Ruth and I had four children who are all retired. Wendy (pictured with Joe) was a school teacher, we have a surgeon, an attorney, and the only one who didn’t finish college was the most financially successful of the four, and lives in Santa Cruz. Two are already on Medicare.”  Wendy moved here last year and volunteers on the brown bag line each week and loves it.”

“My driver’s license expires in a couple of years. I’m studying the book now so I can pass the test and drive till I’m 107.”