Letters to the editor

 

Happy New Year to a 106 year-old

Like the rest of us, Charleston’s finest citizens never know when the gray man will come calling. Gone are Jim Edwards, Arthur Wilcox, Margot Freudenberg and Ted Stern among others. No longer young but with lights burning bright are Fritz Hollings, Dorothy Anderson and Craig Bennett to name a few. Herbert V. Nootbaar does not live in Charleston but if he did he would certain be counted among our finest citizens.

Just because it is a cliché to say we are a nation of immigrants does not mean that it isn’t true. On May 20th 2014, Herbert Nootbaar, who celebrated his 106th birthday on November 8th, was awarded both the Ellis Island Humanitarian Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The Ellis Island Medal of Honor was founded in 1986 to honor the contribution made to America by immigrants and the legacy they left behind in the successes of their children and grandchildren.

Approximately 100 medalists are honored each year to “celebrate the diversity of American life honoring not only individuals but the pluralism and democracy that have enabled ancestry groups to maintain their identities while becoming integral parts of the American Way of life.” The diverse group of honorees includes Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Henry Kissinger and Mohammed Ali.

The Nootbaar family came from Holland. They moved to Germany where Max Nootbaar, father of the recipient, graduated from Heidelberg and then moved to America. In 1896 he joined the Chicago police force. He took on the Black Hand, extortionists later replaced by the Mafia. Suffice it to say he was fearless. He retired to California and died in 1939.

His son Herb is one of the most remarkable people we have ever known. Herb had a long career in the grain business and remained president emeritus of the National Grain & Feed Association well into his 90s. He and his lovely wife Elinor, sadly deceased, have been generous in the extreme. They donated wings of hospitals and endowed the Department of Law, Religion and Ethics at Pepperdine University. A loyal graduate of the University of Southern California they donated baseball fields and baseball museum The Hall of Fame Complex.

Close personal friends of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, they donated the garden at the Reagan Library. One of his prized pieces of memorabilia is one the cartridges from the 21-gun salute honoring President Reagan at his funeral.

We met Herb and Elinor when he was 97. A mutual friend called and asked if we would show them around Charleston. When we said we would be delighted, we were informed he had to walk with cane. The previous year, Herb — who could have hired an army of roofers — fell when he was repairing his roof. It would have killed a lesser man, or at least made him an invalid. Not Herb.

The following year we visited southern California. At 10 a.m. one morning Herb and Elinor picked us up. No limousine, no chauffer. Herb was behind the wheel of the family car and took us on a fabulous tour that lasted until around 6 p.m. when they took us to their beautiful home in Laguna Beach for drinks.

True story: When Herb had his 100th birthday he realized that his driver’s license had expired so he hurried on down to the DMV. There he aced the written exam and passed three eye tests without glasses. The examiner high-fived him and said “Come back when you are 105.”

When he reached 105 his family and friends begged him not to drive, so he did not renew his license. He did say modestly “I believe I could have passed the exam.”

Herb’s own recipe for longevity is, he says, simple: “Pick a good wife and then love and respect her and encourage her love of you.”

There are I think two other attributes that have contributed to Herb’s long life. One is an exquisite sense of humor that allows him to laugh at himself. At the end of our long day he told on himself a priceless story of a train trip in the 1940s that he, his father-in-law and A. P. Giannini took from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Herb was struggling to do business with Bank of America and this was supposed to be a way to gain entrée set up by his father-in-law.

Giannini, who was the founder of the Bank of America and voted one of the 100 most important men of the 20th century, had on a new much loved necktie his daughter has just given him. They went to lunch when they reached LA. Everyone ordered oysters on the half shell. Herb put a drop of Tabasco on his oyster. Down it went, hit bottom and up it came — all over Mr. Giannini’s favorite tie. There is more to the story, equally funny. Needless to say, Herb was never able to do business with Mr. Giannini’s bank.

In addition to that sense of humor Herb has without exception the best attitude of anyone we have ever known.

C. Stuart Dawson, Jr.

Charleston, S.C.

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.