On July 9, Lester R. Carey, a WW II veteran, marks his 100th birthday. Though born and raised in Pennsylvania, he and his wife lived in Waynedale for 55 years and his four daughters are all Elmhurst High School graduates. Since 2001, he has lived in Southwood Park with his daughter and son-in-law.
Mr. Carey served in the Army from June of 1943 until his discharge in January of 1946. At that point, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where his parents had relocated. He found post-war employment at J. C. Penney. Shortly after he began working there, he noticed a young lady, Vilena Herbst, also a recent employee of J. C. Penney. She grew up in Yoder, Indiana, but was living temporarily with an aunt and uncle after her employer, General Electric, went on strike in January. She decided it was a good time to visit Phoenix. Vilena took notice of this new, good-looking young man, whose department she frequently walked through. Family lore has it that they met in May and were engaged by July. They moved back to Fort Wayne to marry and begin life together in October of 1946.
While serving in the army as a Medic (Sergeant Technical Grade), Les spent time in both England and France and has many stories to share about each location. He returned home via ship after his discharge.
Les retired from Dana Corporation in 1980, after 30 years of employment. He served as a head machine repairman, a job he enjoyed because of the variety of challenges it represented. His daughters grew up with the belief that “there’s nothing Dad can’t fix or rebuild,” which was accurate the majority of the time.
After his retirement, he and Vilena hooked up their 37-foot fifth-wheel travel trailer and set out to volunteer with a group called RVICS, Roving Volunteers in Christ’s Service. They traveled to many areas of the U.S., and even to Canada, covering 100,000 miles over a 16-year period. They retired from RVICS and returned home in 1996 due to health issues.
Vilena’s Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis eventually led to her move to a skilled nursing facility in 2001. It was shortly after that difficult decision that he moved to Southwood Park with his daughter and son-in-law, Pam and Doug Barcalow. His beloved Vilena died in 2012, following a 15-year journey through Alzheimer’s.
Not one to just sit around, Les joined the Volunteer Crew at Lutheran Hospital in July of 2004. Early on, he worked as a “wheelchair pusher” for patients being dismissed. When that became too difficult for him to manage physically, he worked at the front desk, checking room numbers, giving directions to physician offices, or whatever else was needed. His volunteer time at Lutheran began in 2004 and only just finished in October of 2019, due to declining health. Over the years, he contributed over 7500 hours at the hospital. He misses his coworkers at the hospital, as well as his friends and Hall’s “Sunday Lunch Bunch” from Waynedale United Methodist Church.
Woodworking is a hobby Les enjoyed most of his life, having repaired furniture, built furniture, and crafted many beautiful items for family and friends over the years. Though no longer able to work in his shop, he is still a source of knowledge on woodworking or home repairs for children and grandchildren.
If you would like to wish Lester happy birthday, there is a pavilion scheduled for July 5 at Foster Park from 1pm-3pm for family and friends to come greet him — at an appropriate distance, of course.
Happy 100th birthday and many best wishes to Dad/Pappy/friend and neighbor, Lester R. Carey!