Photo by Adam Ryan Morris. This story appears in the April 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. by Arlene Becker. Carl Gleysteen is three years short of a century. To his knowledge, he is the oldest motorcyclist in Wisconsin. But once he has the helmet on, with his slim build and erect stature, you’d probably […]

 
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

This story appears in the April 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

by Arlene Becker.

Carl Gleysteen is three years short of a century. To his knowledge, he is the oldest motorcyclist in Wisconsin. But once he has the helmet on, with his slim build and erect stature, you’d probably take him for someone decades younger.

He loves tooling around on his Kawasaki 454 LTD. But Gleysteen also plays the violin in the UW-Milwaukee Community Orchestra, swims almost daily, handles all the yard work at his home, is the head usher at his church and still likes traveling. His life is very full.

At an age when many have passed on or are in assisted living centers or nursing homes, some Milwaukeeans are leading lives more active than people who are half as old. How is this possible? What is their secret? Read on.

Carl Gleysteen, 97 
As the oldest member of the UW- Milwaukee Community Orchestra, “I’m the only one they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to, and always with a large birthday cake and one candle,” Gleysteen says.
Gleysteen can still read his music without glasses. He shows up at every weekly practice and every performance.

He’s also head usher at The First Church of Christ Scientist in Whitefish Bay and trims the church’s bushes twice a year.

How does he stay young? Gleysteen swims five days a week and includes a couple of underwater courses while holding his breath. On each birthday, he does a graceful dive off the diving board at Shorewood’s pool.

He has lived alone in his Fox Point home since his wife died three years ago at age 97. “It was just one week short of our 67th wedding anniversary,” he notes with regret.

He does all the outdoor work on the home’s 2 3/4-acre lot, mowing the lawn and trimming bushes. “I cut down trees that need trimming, and saw logs using a sledgehammer and a wedge to cut my firewood, and for my son’s home. In winter, I clear my 175-foot driveway with a shovel when there’s 3 inches of snow or less.”

He enjoys traveling and will go across country by train to Oregon, sleeping in the seats during the four-day round trips.

Carl is a graduate of Grinnell College and the University of Iowa’s law school. He was a co-founder of the Bruce, Barry and Gleysteen real estate firm on Milwaukee’s East Side, which was subsequently sold to Coldwell Banker, and was the firm’s general manager and legal counsel until his official retirement in 1990, when he was nearly 80. Gleysteen recalls taking Green Bay Packers founder Curly Lambeau to lunch. The Packers were his clients.

Carl loves to drive. Twice a year, he drives alone or with his son (as his passenger) 444 miles each way to the family cottage on a lake in northwest Iowa, where he fishes five days a week, many times rowing alone on the 7-mile-long lake.

Gleysteen describes his fitness routine. “First thing in the morning, I do a five-minute exercise where I move every joint of the body five times. I finish by standing up on my toes five times.”
He has good genes. “My mother lived to 103 and was healthy to the end. She lived in her own house until three months short of age 100. I want to live to 105 to beat mother. My grandparents on both sides lived until their mid-80s and 90s, and were healthy to the end.

“I attribute my long life to heredity and attitude, to a sense of humor and right thinking. I always look forward to the next day and the next season. I’m always thinking ahead. Whenever I do a hard job, I always think of my age and how fortunate I am to be able to do it. At least 20 times a day, I think of my age, because everyone I know talks about it. I feel I’m on top of Mount Everest looking down.”

Gleysteen says he watches very little TV and usually turns the sound off and puts on a classical music CD.

“I also revisit the past.” His late wife was Winifred Kelch Gleysteen, a member of the Doring Sisters, who performed on coast-to-coast radio in the 1930s. “My house is full of photographs. Each winter, I go through boxes of photographs and reread documents, refreshing my memory.”

He also credit his longevity to good eyesight. “That’s extremely important. If I didn’t have good eyesight, I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t drive. I’d be confined to a couple of rooms in the house.”
Instead, he’s out and about daily.

As far as the state of Wisconsin is concerned, Gleysteen is cleared to live at least until he’s 103. He just got a six-year extension on his driver’s license.
Felix Bandos & Feiga Bandos , 90 & 85
Forty years ago, Felix Bandos, 90, founded the Bandos Recycling and Shredding Co. on the South Side. He still serves as its president and works five days a week.

“Most of the time my job is supervising,” he says. “I still make the big decisions. When I’m on the job, I’m always on the move, doing something.” He even does hands-on things. “I try to do repairs. I fix some equipment, like paper bailers and shredders; I even fixed a forklift. I also separate some metals.”

Once a week, his wife, Feiga, 85, comes down to the shop. “First thing she looks for is a broom, and then she makes sure those toilets and other things are nice and clean,” Felix notes with pride. “She tries to straighten out things as well.”

The job, he says, is what keeps him young. “This is my medication. When you’re home, you think of your health. On the job, your head is not taken up with health. Even if I’m tired and didn’t sleep well, once I go over there, everything is fine. I feel alive because I’m always active.”

The couple lives on Milwaukee’s West Side. Both are slim and fit-looking and dress well. They’ve been married for 63 years. Felix drives the couple everywhere, except when they walk.

“My wife always finds something to do at home,” Felix says. “She bakes all the time. While she keeps active cleaning the house, doing the laundry and visiting on the phone, my enjoyment is talking to customers.”

Felix also does small repairs around the house and dusts, vacuums and does the dishes. He’s a tinkerer. He maintains and fixes the lawn mower. And he loves fixing bicycles. He used to be an avid cyclist but now limits himself to test-riding the bikes for short distances. Then, once repaired and tested, he gives the bikes to the children of the Beth Jehudah synagogue.

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Feiga is a reader. “She reads a lot,” says Felix. “She loves to read the Bible. She’s always interested in what’s going on in Israel.”

He and his wife make it a point to walk at least an hour a day. The couple travels several times a year to visit their children in Israel. For Passover, they visit their other children in Canada.
Aileen Rockjordan, 85+ 

Rockjordan has been to China five times. “I’m a history buff and love to read and travel,” she says. She always reads about a place prior to going there. Why China? “I was enchanted by Marco Polo’s trip to China.” And she was also a delegate at the United Nations’ World Conference on Women that was held in China in 1995. “I’ve seen much of it and still have friends there with whom I correspond by e-mail. I get a call from there once a week.” Although she doesn’t speak Mandarin, she understands it.

“I travel somewhere every year, sometimes twice a year,” Rockjordan says. She has been to Korea and on a safari in Botswana. In Thailand, she rode an elephant into the hills. In Tunisia, she rode camels. She hopes to go on another safari, “perhaps in Tanzania and Kenya.”

Rockjordan has often been a trailblazer. During World War II, she got a job out of high school working as a timekeeper for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was one of only two women who were production welders. She also worked on the conning tower of the USS Missouri as a welder. Later, she attended Long Island University, where she was “the only woman and only minority in the business school,” Rockjordan notes. She got a master’s degree in business administration from New York University and broke the color barrier again when she was hired to work in executive positions for exclusive department stores and dress shops.

During the Korean War, Rockjordan lived in Japan for three years and worked as a civilian for the Air Force in special services. She set up tours of Japan and Korea for American military and U.N. personnel. She received a recognition award from Sweden’s King Gustaf for her work with Swedish personnel.
Later in her life, Rockjordan became an academic. She got her master’s degree and was for decades a tenured professor in social work at UWM. She’s still a professor emeritus. She also taught at both UWM’s and Marquette’s extensions.

Rockjordan will admit only to being older than 85. Her motto is, “Life is to be lived. I don’t feel you should sit and wait for the grim reaper.”

Living alone in her condominium in Parkway Village on Milwaukee’s far Northwest Side, she takes care of everything in her life – cooking, cleaning, shopping and then some. She loves to drive and still takes road trips alone. Last year, she drove alone to Wilton, Iowa, to meet a friend from Korea who was visiting America.

Rockjordan is a joiner. Until a few months ago, she served on the board and was the treasurer of the Parkway Village Association.
She has also served on the board of the Wisconsin Condominium Association. Presently, she notes, “I’m a member of Zonta, an international association of business and professional women, and am active in the group.” She’s also a past president of the Zonta Club of Milwaukee.

Tall for a woman of her generation, Rockjordan is 5-foot-7 and stays in shape. She exercises at a health club two to three times a week. She’s a nature-lover and walks five miles on the Oak Leaf Trail in nice weather. “I like things that are related to nature; when I travel, I will go to national parks.”

Rockjordan has an active social life and friends of varied ages. She loves music and frequently goes to the ballet, opera and symphony.
Frank Ruebl, 91
Frank Ruebl has competed in more than 50 marathons. “I didn’t start until I was 57. I ran three marathons a year from the age of 70.

“Last year I was supposed to run Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, [Minn.], but had some congestive heart problems. But I expect to run it in the spring. I’m training for it now.”

He jogs six miles a day with his dog Smokey, a Labrador/beagle mix. “I’ve kept active my whole life.”
Ruebl says he took care of his wife after taking her out of a nursing home. “They weren’t taking care of her. I did it for six years. She died two years ago. It hits me every day.”

During World War II, he says, “She waited for me for four years, and her love letters kept me going. I was a serviceman and got a Purple Heart for my part in the invasion of Italy.”

He also feels his work as a carpenter has built his body up. “I worked full time as a carpenter until I was 85. Even now, if someone needs me for a job, I’ll do it.” Frank says he built a half-dozen homes in Franklin, including the one he still lives in, a three-bedroom house on an acre of land. He lives alone and does all the lawn mowing, raking and snow shoveling.

He also enjoys cross-country skiing. “Skiing and running with Smokey is my training regimen.” And he does all of his own cooking. “I learned to cook when I took my wife out of the nursing home.”

Ruebl is still about the same weight he was in the service. His doctor told him he has the heart of a 65- or 70-year-old.

“I’m all muscle,” he boasts. “I lift 10-pound weights twice a day, morning and evening. I lift them 100 times each time.

“I still drive and ride a racing bike whenever the weather permits. I tool around the neighborhood on it.”
Ruebl doesn’t think he’s too old to take on new projects. “I used to play the guitar, and now I’m teaching myself to play it again.

“I plant a few vegetables, not as many as I used to, as they haven’t been doing well.” Ruebl also spends time with his five great-great-grandchildren.

His recipe for long life? “Exercise and diet and keep moving and look forward. Don’t give up. Don’t say this is my last day.”
Mikhail Becker, 94
With his full head of hair, Becker walks with a military-like bearing and looks much younger than his true age. “Some people have even thought I’m in my early 80s.”

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He is an active participant in the services at Lake Park Synagogue on the city’s East Side, which means standing on his feet and saying the prayers in a clear and strong voice for about an hour or so. Often, he conducts several different portions of the service. He does this whenever he attends the synagogue, which is most Saturdays and all of the Jewish holidays, when he both reads and sings the services.
A former civil engineer, he was a sergeant in the Russian army. He lives in his own home with his wife, Rita.

Becker takes daily 50-minute walks. Around the house, he sometimes cooks or cleans or helps his wife with the chores. He prides himself on his ability to fix things around the house. If he sees something broken, like furniture or bookshelves, he likes to try his hand at fixing it.

Every Monday and Friday, he goes to the Jewish Community Center, where he exercises for a half-hour. He uses the weight machines to keep his muscles toned and then swims for 30 or 40 minutes. When he’s not at the JCC, he works out with weights at home. “I have my routine every morning for about a half-hour.”

He goes along with his wife to do the grocery shopping as well. He reads newspapers in three languages – English, Russian and Yiddish – and is avidly interested in politics. He keeps abreast of the issues of the day.

And he takes care of all his bills and personal business. “I never missed paying a bill.” As for keeping track of the financial details, “It’s all in my head,” he says. “My memory is good so far.”
Brigitte Cooper, 87 

At age 75, Cooper started in-line skating. She had to give it up at age 85 after a stroke affected her leg, but she still walks two miles a day, even in the dead of winter. She exercises three times a week at Wilson Park and sometimes does weightlifting. Her bone density, her doctor has told her, is that of someone a good 10 years younger.

She lives alone in her two-story home, shovels the walkway on her corner lot, and climbs on chairs and ladders to clean windows. Every year, she plants a small vegetable garden, along with the flower gardens she maintains. She mows and rakes her lawn.

Two years ago, nine months after having a total knee replacement, she went on a mission trip to Peru, where she and her granddaughter, Mallory Crosby, washed, cleaned and painted a mission. The pastor of the mission said she was an inspiration for all Peruvian seniors. Her recreation was a hike up to Machu 
Picchu, a climb of more than 1,000 steps.

Cooper is an avid volunteer and still drives everywhere she goes. She gardens and weeds at the Pabst Mansion. She ushers at the Pabst Theater, Skylight Opera Theatre and Next Act Theatre, and volunteers at several summer festivals. Her mantra, she says, is simple: “Just keep moving.”
Herbert Ritzman, 85
Ritzman has been flying since he was 21 and still pilots his own plane, a four-seat Piper Cherokee 140. He does much of the maintenance on the plane as well. He typically takes the plane out once a week for a spin.

Ritzman shares his passion by flying kids from the Young Eagles, an organization of children interested in planes. He’s even flown kids who were afraid of heights, spending time with them to calm their fears. Once a month, he and two other pilots talk to students at various schools about flying. They take instruments, a propeller and a parachute, and even show clips from the EAA air show to the students.
Ritzman built his own house on a 2 1/2-acre spread and lives there with his wife, Beverly. He handles all the home maintenance and yard work. He not only clears the area around his home with a snowblower, but also does the same for his neighbor.

Ritzman fixes lawn mowers and almost everything around the house, including the plumbing. He can fix anything, says Beverly.

Last year, Ritzman made a small concession to age and quit roller skating.
Jay R. Brickman, 86 

He may be a retired rabbi, but Brickman is still teaching, and still learning. The rabbi emeritus of Congregation Sinai has written three books, including his most recent, Poetry Doodles, which came out last year. The book offers pithy and often dryly humorous sayings about life, like, “Adam never ate another apple,” and, “It’s extremely important for men not to put their boxer shorts on backwards.”

With his upright carriage, outgoing personality and strong voice, Brickman seems much younger than 86. He teaches at Sinai, including Bible classes Saturday and Wednesday mornings. He also teaches Jungian Psychology and the Interpretation of Dreams for UWM’s Extension Program. Last February, he gave three Sunday morning lectures on the three kings of Israel at the North Shore Church in Fox Point. He also is involved in many interfaith discussions and lectures in Baileys Harbor in Door County, where he and his wife live during the summer.

“I lecture in Door County almost every week at one of the churches on the peninsula,” Brickman says. “I write a once-a-month column about Judaism and other topics for the Door County Advocateyear-round.”
Then there are his hobbies. Brickman makes baskets out of various materials and has done so for 20 years. His latest creation is a small basket made of waxed linen cord for jewelry.

“I’m in a play-reading group that meets at the Jewish [Community] Center once a month.” The group reads and acts out the plays. “I also do stand-up comedy occasionally; my specialty is Lenny Bruce when I’m invited to do it.”

Brickman is the cook for his Fox Point household, where he lives with his wife, Rita. “I do make a good stir-fry, and I’ve even made a shepherd’s pie with lamb.”

Brickman works out at the JCC two to three times a week for about an hour on the machines and swims after his workout. He does tai chi twice a week at the Tai Chi Center. He enjoys bicycling in Milwaukee and Door County. “I walk on Saturdays and Sundays for about an hour,” he notes, “and I do all the shopping for the family.”

Arlene Becker is a Milwaukee-area freelancer. Write to her at letters@milwaukeemag.com.

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