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St. John’s Herr Estate resident Harlan Eye celebrated his 100th birthday today with friends and family at the Luthercare senior living community in Columbia.
Harlan shared photos and mementos from his childhood as he marked the milestone, marveling at the occasion. He was congratulated by state Sen. Ryan Aument, who also attended the party.
Harlan has no secret to his longevity. “I just try to promote good health and take advantage of the medical help that I get throughout the Luthercare system,” he says.
Harlan was born on a farm in Franklin, W.Va., on September 28, 1917, to Ben and Jane Eye. He was the oldest of four children.
After graduating high school, Harlan attended Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Va., where he majored in history, with a minor in math and chemistry. He graduated in 1939 and began his teaching career in his hometown, where he taught high school mathematics.
Education was – and is – very important to Harlan and his family. “My father was a teacher,” Harlan says. “It was a one-room schoolhouse back in those days. But the pay wasn’t good, so he went to work on a farm.” Each of Harlan’s siblings graduated from high school, and his parents encouraged them to attend college.
Harlan taught for two years in his hometown of Franklin and then received a World War II draft notice letter. He took a leave of absence from his position and left on June 6, 1941, to report to basic training in Fort Sill, Okla. He served in the U.S. Army in the Southwest Pacific with the 880th Airborne Engineers Battalion from 1943 – 1945 and achieved the rank of Captain.
He married Mary Gentry, whom he met when they were both students at Bridgewater College, while home on leave on May 25, 1942. Harlan returned from service on Dec. 23, 1945, and went back to his former teaching job, which was guaranteed for him upon his return. He taught there until the early 1960s, when he accepted a position at a high school in northern West Virginia. He retired in 1973, after 33 years, including his military service.
Harlan and his wife, who taught middle school mathematics, had four children: Dorothy, who passed away at age 27; John, of Lancaster, Pa.; Mary Helen, of Columbus, Ohio; and Carolyn Ann, of Martinez, Calif. They raised their children on a 7-1/2 acre “farmette” property, with a barn, cow, pig and a large garden.
Following retirement, Harlan and Mary enjoyed traveling, visiting all 50 states and heading overseas to such places as Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Morocco, Scotland, Italy and Russia.
“We also did a lot of volunteer work,” says Harlan. That included providing meals to seniors through a senior nutrition program and serving in supportive roles at Red Cross blood drives.
After deciding they wanted to move to a senior living community, Harlan and Mary chose St. John’s Herr Estate in 2004. Mary passed away ten years later.
In 2015, Harlan chose to honor Mary’s memory – and their mutual love of music – with a gift to St. John’s Herr Estate. He became the sole benefactor for a new organ for the community’s chapel that is now enjoyed by all St. John’s residents. A lifelong Lutheran, Harlan enjoys attending chapel service at St. John’s Herr Estate each Sunday afternoon, as well as a service conducted by St. Paul Episcopal Church of Columbia on Saturday evenings at St. John’s Herr Estate.
Today, Harlan also enjoys reading – mostly historical books, novels and magazines – and watching television and sports, particularly college football (he’s a West Virginia University fan), professional football and college basketball. He also likes listening to music.
“Harlan is always so genuine, with a gentle and kind spirit,” says Anita Martin, Executive Director at St. John’s Herr Estate. “It is a pleasure having Harlan be part of the St. John’s family, and we loved having his late wife, Mary, with us as well.”
Happy Birthday, Harlan!