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Dad Made it to 95 – Good Genes Realy Helps!

August 24, 2008

It has been a crazy two months, July and August. The big disrupter was my father’s passing on the 18th of July, which led to a number of unexpected trips and activities to sort out the estate, grieve and properly celebrate his life, talents and accomplishments. Dudley Wilhelmi lived 95 years, with many chapters in his story, with the only woman he ever loved, my mother Marian, who died almost six years earlier. Throughout all the chapters, for me the continuity was his music. Dad was a pianist, and wherever he went, if there was piano, he played. He was one of those bigger than life people who seemed to take command of the room or the situation wherever he found himself, and his music was part of his mystique.

He charted his own path in life, starting his own business during the depression in our basement – Marine Cabinet and Display – which eventually became the Tacoma Fixture Co. He was a bit of a daredevil and a risk-taker. I have some very old 8-mm film of him doing a swan pose on one leg while perched on the bow of the beautiful, mahogany-decked inboard speedboat he built at fifteen, at about 30 knots with mom at the wheel. On the same reel is a scene of he and his younger brother diving in Puget Sound with their home-made helmet and compressor setup, and an underwater camera they made for themselves.

He believed that everything he did should leave the world and the people he dealt with better off. He was truly a man of honor, and his word was sacred to him. He always paid his workers more than scale, and taught them trade and success skills. A clear example of this is that his youngest apprentice, at the time he sold the business, eventually became President of Tacoma Fixture and oversaw its growth to be one of the largest cabinet companies in Washington State. The business was built around the modern, at that time, look of the ‘overlay’ style of cabinets, which he pioneered and patented the first hinge for. He used to travel the USA setting up other cabinet shops with the tooling and assembly system, and then sell them the hinges.

He was 42 when he sold the company and opened an Organ sales studio in Santa Monica CA, which promptly went broke. After working for a couple of cabinet shops he built his own really beautiful shop (Streamerline Cabinet Co.) in Venice CA, and tried to put his two sons to work (to keep them off the streets of course). We didn’t pan out, and eventually he sold the shop and hired on at Rocketdyne as a model maker. He stayed with the company until it became Boeing and about a year after retiring, he and Mom bought a house on Harstine Island and moved back to Puget Sound near Shelton WA. He bought a 21 ft inboard speedboat and resumed his childhood. They had a rich and full life with family and new friends until mom succumbed to lung cancer (dumb doctor had treated her for about 4 years for recurring bouts of pneumonia, but never realized she had cancer). Dad was in bad shape at the time and my brother Tom and I decided to move him to Carson City NV where Tom has a growing cabinet business (Thomas-Built Cabinet Co. – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree).

As soon as Dad was settled, someone realized his heart rate was 28 beats/minute; they installed a pacemaker and he came back to life. He and brother Tom had great fun together for the next 6 years until he surprised us all and died. My wife Jo remembered he had sent us a tape of his piano playing and some organ works, so we had a CD made from it and it was the highlight of the memorial service we had on August 9th. I have been playing the CD in my car for weeks, dredging up old memories and feelings. For me, the music is still alive.

When it comes to longevity, there is no accounting for Dad. He smoked 6 cigars a day from the time he was 24 until he was 75; they were always lit in his mouth with the hot-end smoke curling up his nose – he was always breathing the stuff. He played hard, drank too much and stayed out late doing jam session with other musicians. He did quit drinking altogether at about 60, and that may have helped; and his favorite breakfast was trout and fried eggs which mom always cooked with bacon grease. He ate eggs nearly every day of his life; I’m convinced eggs are truly a health food, depending on the lifestyle of the chicken of course.

Good Living – Frank.

Frank Wilhelmi
Frank Wilhelmi

Frank Wilhelmi – Retired/consultant electronic engineer researches and reports practical strategies for optimizing health and fitness into advanced age. “I have a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping others to do the same.” A rapidly growing body of knowledge now enables us to extend our health and fitness decades beyond popular expectations.

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