102-year-old Johnny Fenstermaker shares lifetime of memories, secret to a long life

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By Leigh Ann Rutledge 

Associate Editor

Lewis “Johnny” Fenstermaker is looking forward to celebrating his 103rd birthday April 10. 

The East Springfield resident, who now calls Centreville Village in Carrollton his home, was born in the 1919, in Portage County, Nelson Twp. near Garrettsville, and is the youngest child of the late Anna and Lewis Fenstermaker.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lewis wasn’t able to celebrate his 102nd birthday with family and friends and is looking forward to having cake and ice cream later this week. 

Dana Aston, Centreville’s activity director, found a way to make his 102nd birthday special, even without the traditional celebration. She sent a letter to President Joe Biden, who sent Fenstermaker a signed birthday letter. 

Fenstermaker and three of his four children gathered in his room in Centreville Village last week  to talk about the past century with The Messenger. 

The jolly Fenstermaker, sitting in a recliner in his room said he’s seen and lived through many different things during his lifetime, two of which not many people have no recollection: the Great Depression and World War II. 

During the Depression, Fenstermaker, who was in high school said, “I worked for a neighbor and had the best job in the county. I earned $2 per day for a 10-hour day. All the guys were jealous.”

He worked on the Bell’s farm and was hired because he could handle the team of horses. 

His father was a teamster with horses. 

He thought it was rough at that time. He had one brother and three sisters living in a home with no electric or indoor plumbing. (They had electric installed in their home in the late 1930s.) 

A man would pick the kids up in a covered wagon pulled by a team of horses and transport them to school. Lewis’ mom called it the “kid hack.” Later, he rode to school in the bed of a truck with canvas over the back and benches along the side and front. 

Lewis met his wife, Ruth, in school and they began going together during his sophomore year. He graduated from Nelson High School in 1937, one of a class of 11 graduates. He and Ruth married in 1939. She passed away in 2000.

Lewis worked several jobs until he was hired at the Ohio Edison plant in Warren. When he was transferred to the Sammis Plant in Stratton in 1959, he and Ruth moved the family to East Springfield. Oldest daughter, Carol, had graduated high school, but Chuck, Joyce and Jeff lived at home. Lewis retired in the spring of 1981.

Reminiscing, Lewis talked about driving. He began driving a Model T Ford when he was 12 years old. “My dad didn’t like to drive, he told me to drive,” Lewis said. Always a Ford man, he restored two Model A Fords, one of which his son, Jeff, owns.

Carol and Joyce talk of not having a television and remember listening to Jack Benny and Amos & Andy on the big radio that sat on the floor.

“We didn’t have a telephone until I was in high school,” said Carol. The family went to visit an aunt and uncle and had their first look at a television. 

Lewis noted television was probably the one invention that has stuck out as the best to him. 

Lewis and Ruth were pretty self-sufficient. Ruth was a good gardener and they only purchased staples at the grocery store. Ruth made the older children’s clothing. Carol said it was a big thing to go to the feed mill and pick out the flour bag you wanted for your dress. 

Lewis was always busy. He owned a 13-acre hobby farm in East Springfield and planted crops and made hay. He always had ponies and horses. He did a lot of woodworking, making dressers, hall trees, stands, and shelves. 

He made clocks for his children and grandchildren. “Everyone has at least one piece he made,” said Joyce. 

A stand he made is used as a bedside table in his room at Centreville. 

Lewis loved to travel, and the family traveled to Florida, and camped in Canada and Lewis went on a fishing excursion to Toronto, Canada. 

On his 90th birthday, Lewis rode his horse on his birthday, like he did every year. After that ride, he said, “That’s it.”  His horse now resides with family where she is spoiled. 

He drove until he was 98 years old and Oct. 15, 2018, moved to Centreville where he is close and able to visit with friends.

“We think his secret is he didn’t smoke and didn’t drink but kept busy,” said Joyce. 

Lewis said his secret is, “I have a good family who takes care of me.”

His children say he has a good sense of humor and enjoys meeting people. So many attended his 100th birthday party that Lewis didn’t get to eat during the event. 

“Our family didn’t have a lot growing up, but we had a happy childhood,” said Joyce. “We had two good parents who loved us, and we knew it.”

Lewis enjoys reading books from the library and watching football. He has 16 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

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