Centenarian has 100 years of ties to area’s history

Arndt instrumental in starting Marion Area Historical Society

Grace Kirchner Leader Correspondent

Photo by Grace Kirchner Raymond Arndt, who’ll turn 101 in November, gives countless donations of his time, tools and talents to the Marion Area Historical Society. Its 30th anniversary was Saturday.

Ask 100-year-old Raymond Arndt about his secret to living a long life, and he’ll tell you his recipe is doing hard work and keeping busy — both of which will keep you out of trouble.

One of the ways the centenarian keeps out of trouble these days is helping with the Marion Area Historical Society, which celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday. The society, which was founded in 1988 at the encouragement of the Marion Economic Development Corp., built its museum on city-owned land that was nothing but dirt, sand and a hill that Arndt recalled had to be lowered five or six feet to make way for a building.

The society later dedicated its East Ramsdell Street museum to Arndt in 2009 — thanks, in part, to the many tools, pieces of farm machinery and log home he donated to the organization. So many historical items have been donated to the society that the group is looking to expand and build an additional 60-by-100-foot building, Arndt said.

Arndt was also instrumental in locating the big mail car that was found in Rapid River, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The 60-foot mail train car had been used for sorting mail on moving trains. Arndt said they had to extend the tracks at the site to accommodate the train car. The caboose that is on display was located in Neenah.

“The wheels alone weigh 16 tons,” Arndt said.

Born Nov. 12, 1917, at home on his family’s Town of Dupont farm, Arndt was the middle child in a family of seven kids; he had one sister and five brothers. Only his 84-year-old brother, Don, survives. At that time, Arndt recalls riding a horse six miles each way to attend Marion High School, from which he graduated.

In the 1930s, Arndt said there were hard times on the farm when nobody had any money. When the collection was taken up at church — a stick with the bag on the end — all the neighbors wondered who’d had the dollar that they could put in. People were poor, he said, but happy.

“We had house parties,” he said. “The neighbors all got together, but we had nothing.”

Arndt married his wife Violet on Christmas Day in 1942. In 1942, Arndt began his service with the U.S. Army, which he did for four years. He said the boat that carried him to Europe was loaded with 16,000 soldiers, and they were stacked like sardines for the 4½-day trip from New York to Scotland. He recalled running a supply truck in the Army and building a garage. He said he spent time in Germany, England and France, and the trip home to the States took 21 days.

One of the memories that struck him from his Army years was how few of the inductees knew how to fix things. Arndt, in contrast, was always handy and could fix just about anything.

“I didn’t have any special schooling or nothing,” he said. “Growing up on a farm, you just learned that.”

While he said he feels lucky that he was never sent to fight on the front lines, Arndt did not escape the war unscathed. Physically, he was once hospitalized for a serious infection to his arms and face. He said he was given penicillin, to which he is allergic. Mentally, he bears scars as well. It bothers him today to hear people claim that the Holocaust did not happen.

“They don’t know anything,” he said. “I saw enough stuff over there to know it did. I know better.”

After the war, he returned home to Violet to farm and raise their three boys, Milton, David and Gene. Later, in 1956, he took a job at FWD in Clintonville, retiring in 1980 after 24 years. Working at FWD was a good experience, he said, as he worked in various departments that included making patterns. Many of the racks have likely been thrown out now, he guessed, as much of the work is done by computers today.

Arndt recalled working on the Terra Cruiser that was being built at the time. He remembered co-workers Harold Hidde, Harold Hoffman, Steve Guthe, Bill Leikert, Oliver Lundt and Ken Buchberger. He said that he and Buchberger would flip quarters to see who was going to buy the coffee.

In addition to farming and working at FWD, Arndt also served 30 years on the Dupont Town Board, 18 years as a Waupaca County supervisor and 52 years on the Dupont Insurance Board.

Arndt also enjoys traveling. Five years ago, Arndt took part in an Old Glory Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He said it was an awesome experience, and that he was awed by the size of everything, which he hadn’t expected to be so big.

When Violet was still alive, they took a trip back to Germany where Arndt had been stationed in the Army. She and their sons have since passed away; Arndt has lived since October with his grandson, Clayton, on a farm in Gresham.

These days, Arndt — who admits to being a bit of a fussy eater — said he eats a banana and cereal for breakfast, and at noon he might go to town to eat. In the evening, he eats whatever is fixed for him, but he admitted he doesn’t like broccoli. He is an avid reader, though.

Arndt conceded he doesn’t have the energy he did as a younger man. Earlier in life, he worked two jobs and could get along on two or three hours of sleep — something he’s now not quite sure how he accomplished.

He’s looking forward to his November birthday when he will turn 101. In the meantime, he has some cautionary words for the next generation.

“When we were young, we all drank beer and sobered up by the next day,” he said. “But today, they are into drugs that don’t leave them.”

He also encouraged citizens young and old to get out and vote at election time, as he always votes if he can.

“I believe it is your responsibility,” he said.