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If you want a glimpse into the last 100 years of American history, you can pick up a book or you could sit a spell and talk to Harold Hormann, who on Saturday, turned 100 years old.
The Spencer County man has lived here with his son, Ed, since late 1999, but his life touched those across the Midwest and the nation because of his work during World War II.
Harold was born in 1917, and when he was a year old, his father, Edward, was called into service for World War I. He has his father’s army uniform framed and on display in the stairwell leading to his basement apartment.
“My mom and I and my aunt went down to Little Rock while he was training,” said Harold.
He was too little to remember the visit, which could have been the last time he ever saw his father. Thankfully, his father, who was assigned to a horse-drawn artillery unit in the war, came back unscathed to his hometown of Herkimer, Kansas.
The family moved to Iowa when he was nine, and shortly after that, his father bought a grain elevator in the small town of Malmo, Nebraska. After completing his education at the University of Nebraska around the time of the outbreak of World War II, Harold was recruited to join the Department of the Navy in it’s Bureau of Yards and Docks.
“They told me that they were going to put me in uniform, but they never did,” said Hormann. His daughter, Rita, said that’s always been one of her father’s regrets is that he’s not counted among the veterans.
But the service he provided to the country was vital, so vital that he was often not allowed to talk about his work when he would go back home. On one of those trips home however, he and his childhood sweetheart Mabel, decided to get married.
“We made a quick trip to Lincoln and she bought a dress that was appropriate and I bought a new suit and we got married,” he said.
So the son of a Kansas farmer and the daughter of a Nebraska minister made their way back to Washington D.C., where they would live during the remainder of the war. The trip back was memorable, said Harold, because they had to sit on suitcases since the train was so full that there were no empty seats.
Despite the hardships on the return, Rita said she recalls her parents often talking about the wonderful time they had as newlyweds in Washington D.C.
“I remember them looking at each other, smiling, and saying, ‘Those were good years.’”
Hormann went back to work, designing landing strips on remote Pacific islands and helping the Navy prepare for a potential invasion from Japan. Fortunately, the war ended before that was necessary, and Hormann and his bride returned to Omaha.
He then embarked on a career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping design dams, floodwalls and other projects along the Missouri River. At the same time, he and his wife raised their family.
There were some tough times. He lost vision in his right eye more than 50 years ago, and he thought that might be the end of his career. But he pressed on and it didn’t stop him from being promoted to Chief Designer.
He lost his wife Mabel after 52 years of marriage and remained in Omaha until Ed convinced him to move to Kentucky with him 17 years ago. Now, father and son spend a lot of their time out in the woodshop, a hobby that Harold learned as a child. Together they work on projects ranging from furniture to Christmas ornaments. Harold often spends time on the lathe, fashioning wood into bowls and cups that he marks with his initials on the bottom.
Aside from his vision issues, Harold said he’s been blessed with good health. He’s been using a walker for only a couple of years, but gets out frequently.
A voracious reader, one of Harold’s favorite stops is to the new Spencer County Public Library. He said he has to read large print books now, but said he’s fortunate that the local library carries a large selection of them. As for his favorite genre, Harold likes to venture back to his boyhood days in the west.
“I’ve read every book that Zane Grey ever wrote,” Harold said proudly of the famed author of westerns.
But his reading isn’t limited to fiction. He starts every day with devotional reading and said that’s a key to him staying mentally sharp and focused. He said those devotions also keep his faith strong, which he said is the key for anyone wishing to have a full life.
“Of course, number one is your religious life,” he said when asked about advice he’d give to younger people.
Another is to maintain a positive attitude.
“I guess I’d say, never give up,” said Harold. Rita said her father is the most positive person she’s ever known.
Harold said that optimism helped him keep going when he lost vision in his eye.
“You’ve got to be determined to do what you can,” he said.
As for the secret to long life, Harold said there really isn’t one. Part of it may be genetic. His mother lived to be 103, and his sister is still healthy and even driving at 95. His son Ed, jokes that it’s his good cooking that’s kept his father on this earth.
For Harold however, his century on this earth is simply a blessing from God.
“The good Lord. There’s just no other answer,” he said.