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Illinois veteran turning 100 thought he had seen it all, then came the coronavirus

By TERI MADDOX | Belleville News-Democrat | Published: May 20, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — Edward Manthey lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the polio epidemic and other major crises, but he can’t remember anything quite like the coronavirus.

“It’s really devastating,” he said by phone Tuesday from his Millstadt, Ill., apartment.

Edward has been sheltering in place for the two months leading up to his 100th birthday on Wednesday. Health concerns and legal restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic also canceled his family’s annual camping trip to Florida.

But Edward’s spirits have been lifted by more than 150 birthday cards from people involved with the Honor Flight Network. He was a volunteer for the nonprofit organization until three years ago.

Edward’s family also hung a giant birthday banner over his front door. He lives independently, thanks to his son, Don Manthey, and Don’s wife, Karen, who help with bathing and chores and bring him a hot meal each day.

Edward takes no medication, only iron and vitamin B, but he goes to the hospital each month for a blood transfusion to keep his supply replenished. He uses a walker, mainly because he never agreed to doctor-recommended knee replacements.

“He’ll talk your ear off,” said his grandson, Don Manthey Jr., 40, of Glen Carbon, a salesman for industrial welding supplies. “He’s always been very personable.”

Father was a milkman

Edward was born on May 20, 1920, in the village of Oak Park, near Chicago, and grew up in nearby Bellwood and Maywood, the only child of Paul and Henrietta Manthey.

Young Edward’s favorite pastime was building model airplanes.

“I played baseball on a baseball team,” he said. “That was until the circus came to town and ruined our field with their elephants and horses.”

His family fared better than many during the Great Depression because his father kept his job as a milkman, delivering with a horse-drawn wagon.

Edward graduated from high school in 1938 and worked in a machine shop until he was drafted in 1941. He served as a propeller mechanic with the Army Air Corps, stationed in England and spared from fighting on a World War II battlefield.

“When they were flying missions during the day, he would do repairs at night,” said his son, Don Manthey, 67, of Smithton, a retired salesman for industrial welding supplies.

After four years in the military, Edward returned to his job at the machine shop.

“He played hockey in the minors,” Don said. “He played for the Hornets, and they practiced on the same rink that the Blackhawks played on.”

Still driving at 99

Edward married in 1950. He and his wife, Jean, a homemaker who did housecleaning on the side, had three sons, Don, Ken and Steve. She died in 2001. Ken and Steve also are deceased.

Edward worked 20 years as a mechanic for an auto dealership that sold Hudsons and later Chevrolets. He moved to the parts department, retired in 1985 as parts manager and volunteered as a singer and pianist at nursing homes. He also carved wooden crosses to give away.

Edward moved from Elmhurst to Millstadt three years ago to be closer to Don and Karen. He also has a granddaughter, Yvonne Worrel, and three great-grandsons, Campbell and Harrison Manthey and Corbin Bock.

Edward spends much of his time watching golf, football and “Judge Judy” on TV. He rode a bicycle well into his 70s and drove a car until seven months ago, when the family decided it was a little too risky and sold his 2015 Chevy Impala.

“He would drive up to the DMV himself to get his license renewed,” Don Jr. said. “I would always joke that he was palming a $100 bill and bribing the lady to let him pass.”

The family expects to move Edward into an assisted-living center in the coming months to provide him with better care, perhaps after the coronavirus scare is over.

What is the secret to his long life?

“Jesus Christ,” answered Edward, a self-described born-again Christian. “He is my savior. He’s been my guide and executor for a long time.”

©2020 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)
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