Virgil nearly 100: ‘A very fortunate life’
Former longtime local businessman and war veteran Virgil Ufkin was born in 1917, the same year as former President John F. Kennedy. Fifty four years after the assassination of Kennedy, Ufkin is still going strong.
“I’ve had a very fortunate life,” Ufkin said recently from his room at the Minneota Manor.
“I don’t have any complaints. Well, not too many anyway.”
On Dec. 27, the Minneota Manor will celebrate Ufkin’s 100th birthday party from 2-4 p.m.
“I’ve never been a smoker and not much of a drinker,” said Ufkin, when questioned about his secret for a long life.
“I’ve always stayed active and tried to eat good food.” Ufkin's physical strength and memory might not be as strong as it once was, but his appreciation for life and for others remains a pillar of strength.
Ufkin has outlived two wives. After the death of his second wife Mary last year, Ufkin moved out of his home on North Monroe Street in Minneota and into the Manor.
“I like it here,” he said about the Manor. “They treat me very well.”
Through a century of living, Ufkin has seen the world drastically change; sometimes for the better and sometimes not.
“It seems like the news on TV now is about something bad that happened,” he said. “But there is a lot of good, too. They just don’t talk about that as much because it’s not as interesting.”
When Ufkin was born, Woodrow Wilson was president. In all, he has lived through 18 presidents during his lifetime. “Really, there’s been that many?” he laughed when the number was relayed to him.
“There have been some good ones and a few bad ones.”
When Ufkin was born in 1917, bread was only seven cents a loaf, gasoline was four cents a gallon and a postage stamp was two cents.
Only eight percent of homeowners had a landline phone.
Today, only eight percent of homeowners still own a landline phone, while over 80 percent of the population owns a Smartphone.
And in 1917, the population of the United States was 100 million, while it now sits at 320 million.
His business ventures began as the Gambles Store and eventually evolved into Ufkin’s Furniture and Appliance. During the years he was gone from Minneota due to his service obligation, his wife Ruth ran the business. He returned to Minneota and eventually retire from his businesses.
Ufkin was also one of the founding members of the Minneota Rotary and last year received an award for 50 years of service to the international organization.
He was a charter member and maintains his membership yet today. During his time in Rotary, Ufkin was known as the Rose Sale King. He handled the Rose Sale every year for the Rotary and often helped sell near 400 roses. World War I began the year Ufkin was born.
Notables born that year include Louis Zamperini of “Unbroken” fame, along with Dean Martin, Ernest Borgnine and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Ufkin, born and raised in rural Porter, bought the Gambles store in Minneota with his first wife, Ruth, in 1940.
But 15 months later, he was drafted and eventually became a supply officer assigned to the Third Army’s 71st Infantry Division.
He was soon promoted to captain and traveled with the troops throughout France, Germany and Austria by jeep as supply officer.
The commanding officer of the Third Army was General George S. Patton and Ufkin found himself a few feet away from him on several occasions. Ufkin was never in any combat action during his time in the service, although he could hear the bombing off in the distance.
After the war ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, Ufkin and the 71st Division were sent to inspect two of Adolf Hitler’s 10 homes/headquarters; both which were hit hard by British aerial attacks.
Ufkin even had a photograph taken while standing outside one of Hitler’s shell-shocked homes.
Ufkin returned to Minneota after the war and stayed in the hardware business until passing the torch to his son, Bill, 32 years ago. Bill ran Ufkin’s Furniture and Appliances for 30 years before retiring last year.
Virgil and Ruth, who passed away in 1996, also had a daughter, Jean, who currently lives in Minneapolis.
Ufkin also was recently awarded a certificate for 70 years of service to the Minneota American Legion.
Now Virgil will soon be the guest of honor at his 100th birthday celebration.
“I never gave it much thought if I would live to be 100,” he said, smiling.
“Like I said before, I’ve had a very fortunate life.”