DELMAR-Centenarian Bill Scharoun of Glenmont is a window into life from the 1920s through today. That’s becoming more and more of a rarity.
It’s important because some of the critical nature of some of those decades in America’s history.
In the late 20s, we had the stock market crash. The 30s dragged the country through The Great Depression. On its heels was World War II, which changed the landscape of geopolitics. The 1950s brought unprecedented prosperity. The 60s saw cultural upheaval. And on it goes.
Scharoun lived through them all, and this sharp 100 year-old recalls each era with both a vivid and documentary-like mind.
And yet with all of his experience, almost all of his perceptions boil down to family, upbringing, responsibility and chores, finding a good mate and local control of the education of children.
One of the shocking things that came out of Scharoun’s mouth is about the wedded life.
“Marriage is easy,” the widower said of his 67-year relationship. “You listen to each other and put the other person first and remember that everyone is different.”
With regard to children, he says that what young people today might find as a hardship, he found as an “opportunity” and that attitude helped form maturity in the youths of his day.
“Children today don’t have the opportunities I had,” he said. “We knew what it would take to make a dollar on our paper routes. We worked to get that dollar. If someone didn’t pay their bill, you were stuck – not the company.
“Life is easier now,” he said. “On ‘wash-day,’ my mother had the big tubs on the stove full of water and took the Fels Naptha laundry soap and cut that up. You had these big paddles to swirl the water and get the stains out. Then you carried it over to the rinse water. We had to ring it all out by hand with a hand-ringer. It was a lot of work.”
Between the chores and the lively conversation around the dinner table, families were built into a solid unit through the time spent pulling together as a team.
And things that seem so challenging today were not even an afterthought back then.
“In winter time, a foot of snow meant nothing,” he recalled. “You’d go to school.”
Schools also had closer ties to the parents.
“When they centralized schools,” he continued, “they took the power away from you and me. Before that, I knew who was on the school board. I could go to the board member and tell them to move the bus stop to a safer place. The control was there. Now, they’d tell you, ‘I have to think of the whole district, not about you.’”
“I remember a lad from the State Education Department talking to a teacher and telling him that if the centralized school budget got voted down, ‘We’ll just put a budget without furniture in it.’ In other words, they were going to do what they wanted and get control.
“We used to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ and we’d never sass the teacher,” he remembers. “Beyond that, they lowered the standards for testing in the 1970s. I don’t think the kids of today could pass exams of 50 years ago. There’s also a lot of more emphasis on sports than academics. Sports were meant to be an outlet. We always just had fun, and I think that’s what’s missing.”
Television and mass media also gave a lot of power to whoever was put in front of the camera. Scharoun recalls that the platform itself could replace truth, solid philosophy and your own particular family values.
“At first, you had ‘Howdy Doody’ and shows like that,” he said. “You didn’t have shows that depicted that the children knew more than their parents. The father was the one who knew what’s best.”
To Scharoun, it’s clear that the breakdown of the family has contributed to some of the challenges of contemporary society. Slowly, the reinforcement of the values of the mother and father have been replaced by larger powers at work through education and the media.
And what values are needed in government leadership to help bring the country back to some of its former strengths?
“Honesty is first,” he said. “You have to put country before yourself and, of course, a leader should have a good education.”
You just wonder what people a third or a half of his age would change in their own lives if they could have a centenarian as a life coach?
Robert J. LaCosta writes a daily devotional called “Portals to Heaven” that you can receive free in your email. He has also launched a podcast called “The Age Sage.”