Contact: Pam Schlenvogt
Phone: (414) 357-5105 ext. 5851
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 16, 2012
Alexian Village Celebrates Resident’s 108th Birthday
You would never suspect that the sharply dressed man, always in a vest and collared shirt, passing you in the hallway would be a centenarian, but in fact Alphons “Al” Hinnenkamp, resident of Alexian Village Square Assisted Living will turned 108 last month. Appearance is important to Al, feeling that if you dress well, it shows respect for yourself and of your surroundings and those around you. He takes pride in once being revered as the “Best Dressed Man at Alexian Village,” or as “Polka Man”-not for the dance (although Al used to cut a rug), but for the polka dot tie he would wear while strolling the facility. He takes pride in having once owned 12 suits, with plenty of handkerchiefs for the front pocket. He would even change his clothes twice a day to fit the mood or the meal. But Al is not flashy or pompous, his modesty is astonishing. He would describe his life as ordinary. Most of his generation, the few which remain, would. But Al’s “ordinary” is something of an anomaly today and should be celebrated right along with his milestone birthday.
Al was born March 8th, 1904 in a log cabin settled in the woods of Melrose, MN. The oldest of 11 children, born to German immigrants, Al began work early. He remembers, at the age of four, sitting on top of the kitchen table, helping his mother wash and dry dishes. When his siblings were born, he would “watch the babies” while his parents worked the farm. Soon Al’s siblings, specifically a younger sister, were old enough to help in the house, so Al moved from house work to farm work. He recalls days without tractors, but plows driven by a team of four horses. Al liked school, but being the oldest he was dealt a hand of responsibility to family and farm and that trumped attendance. In the fall, he would be absent from school for harvest and in the spring for planting. Most kids would relish not having to go to school, but the work was hard and the hours long, and Al did not like farming.
In 1929, when Al was 25, he left the farm for Milwaukee. This was the beginning of the Great Depression. With a job market almost nonexistent, Al was able to secure a job filling milk cans for 35¢ an hour. That enabled him to rent a room and purchase a $5 meal ticket that would cover all his meals for a week. Filling milk cans wouldn’t last long, with a war on the horizon, other opportunities were ahead.
Al was too old for the Army, but to help in the war effort he started work at a factory supplying materials for the war. Prohibition was over, he lived in Milwaukee, and when the opportunity arose, the natural choice was to work in a brewery. Al recounted that the men were fighting the war and the women kept the country going, and that included the breweries of Milwaukee. Al worked at Pabst Brewing Company side by side with the women, and at one time that included his own wife. The women went on strike for equal pay and won; instances like that, Al recalls, are what strengthened the rights of all the workers, men included. His respect for women is remarkable and he was ahead of his time in showing women equal rights and appreciation in the workplace. In place of milk cans, Al filled beer bottles. He liked his job and it afforded him and his wife the ability to buy a home, raise a family, and live a comfortable life.
Today, Al doesn’t hear well and his vision is poor. He doesn’t bowl anymore, once being a strong bowler for the Pabst team, nor does he dominate the pool table as he once did at the Washington Park Senior Center, where he was very active. But you can find him every day getting his exercise by walking the halls of Village Square while listening to his headphones, tuned to sports talk.
Out of his ten siblings, only one remains. His remaining sister still resides in Minnesota. She and her husband own a company that produce headstones, but Al says he won’t be buying one. He has his “retirement condo” already purchased, a crypt where his wife is entombed. There is no hint of sadness in his voice when he speaks of his next journey, not even a pause in his speech. It’s that sense of contentment with life and death that makes Al so interesting. He has lived through 19 presidencies, two World Wars, two appearances of Halley’s Comet, and so much more, and yet he doesn’t see anything too fantastic about it. To him, he just lived.
The cliché question to ask someone approaching an advanced age is what’s the “secret” to a long life? Well, Al answers that quickly by responding he never smoked and that he came home sober from work every day, most men at the breweries didn’t.
nmn rtfAs humble as Al is, he is looking forward to one special gift on his birthday. Every year his sister sends him a check in the amount of his age. When asked if it’s those checks and their rising amounts that have kept him living so long, he laughed and said “doesn’t hurt.” Happy Birthday Al!!
Alexian Village of Milwaukee is a vibrant continuing care retirement community (CCRC) providing a full continuum of services and care. Located at 9301 N. 76th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53223, Alexian Village of Milwaukee offers: Independent Living Apartments; Assisted Living Units, a dedicated Rehabilitation Unit and Skilled Nursing services and an Adult Day Care Center.
For more information on Alexian Village of Milwaukee please call (414) 355-9300 or visit www.alexianbrothers.net
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