Seymour man turns 100 Monday


World War II veteran, Christian education teacher, outdoorsman, gardener, traveler, embroiderer and stamp collector.

Husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Rabel “Ray” Newkirk has had several titles in his lifetime. On Monday, he can add another one to the list: Centenarian.

Born Aug. 14, 1923, the Seymour man is turning 100.

“Oh, I don’t even think about it,” he said, laughing, about his thoughts on reaching the milestone. “I have no complaints at all. I’ve always had pretty good health, that’s one thing, and if I needed help, I always had help.”

Being a longtime member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, attending Immanuel Lutheran School and working at Lutheran schools, Newkirk also credits “the good Lord” for living a long life.

“His Christian education meant a lot to him,” his wife of 68 years, Ruth Newkirk, 91, said.

She also credits her husband’s patience and being easy to take care of for his longevity.

“Some days, I feel good, and some days, I feel not so good. I tell you what, if I could walk better, I’d get along better. Now, I always have to depend on this,” Ray said, referring to the walker he has used since falling three times.

Each time, though, he has done what’s needed to rehabilitate, and he gets right back up and goes on.

“I was doing pretty well, and then one day, I fell there and I broke my hip and I was in the hospital for a while, and it just seems like from then on, I was kind of going downhill,” he said. “I couldn’t begin to hear well, and I couldn’t understand things. It took awhile for it to heal.”

Ray was raised in Seymour by his parents, Edward and Emma Borgman Newkirk, and had three sisters, Marguerite, Katherine and Ella May. He attended Immanuel Lutheran School before moving on to Shields High School, graduating with the Class of 1942.

“As a freshman, I worked at Union Hardware,” he said. “I missed a lot of activities for the high school because of that. Social activities, I still could do other things.”

After graduating, he worked at the Kasting house near Freeman Army Airfield, which was constructed as a military base during World War II.

“It was affiliated with what was going on at the airport at the time, the military being there,” Ray said. “They called me a checker. The workers were mechanics. I took care of their equipment, and their workers would come to me ‘I need a saw,’ ‘I need this,’ ‘I need that,’ and I’d check them out and I’d mark that they took it out, and then if they returned it, then I marked it OK, but I made sure they returned it.”

The next year, he found himself helping the military in another way. He was drafted and joined the U.S. Army.

He started out at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh before going to Washington, California, Texas and Oregon.

“In the meantime, the Army had already gone into Normandy,” he said. “I was transferred to Baltimore, and I got into England and was there not too long and I was put on a troop ship to cross the English Channel and I went into Normandy, but I didn’t go there for fighting at that time. The Army was so mixed up, they didn’t know what was going on, but some were off fighting.”

They wound up picking him to carry something similar to a radio on his back, and he had a guy with him carrying the battery.

“I had to report how we were doing — how we were fighting and how the enemy was attacking us, to the right or to the left or whatever,” Ray said. “Later on, not too long, they improved that. You didn’t have to carry that thing. I didn’t have to have a battery carrier.”

Ray served through 1945, which is when the war ended. He was in the 359th Infantry for four campaigns in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater of Operations.

“Well, I guess it means a lot. It’s my country. I think everything turned out pretty well. I have no complaints at all,” he said of his service.

“The Lord was with him,” Ruth said.

Ray earned a Combat Infantry Badge, a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal and certificate.

“I was not injured badly, but the fella by me, I understand, was killed,” he said. “They took me to a place where they can take care of you, and they told me the fella next to me had been killed by an artillery shell. I got a little bit in the back and was kept for about three days, and then they put me back in.”

After the Army, Ray received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Illinois.

“The government helped pay the fee,” he said. “I first got my bachelor’s degree, and then I still had a little bit left from the government, so I used that up. Later on, after I had taught a few years, I went back to college and I got my master’s degree.”

He taught at a Lutheran school in Aurora for four years. While attending a teachers conference in Evansville, he met Ruth Pottschmidt. The Brownstown native was helping a teacher at the Lutheran school in her hometown at the time.

“I went with a lady from Sauers, and we wouldn’t live in motels. They were in homes, and so the lady had put a rose on me the next morning to go to the conference,” Ruth said. “We had a little break, and here he was in the hallway and came over and he said, ‘Oh, what a beautiful rose you have on today.’ I said, ‘Yes, the lady I stayed with pinned it on me.’ I thought, ‘Well, what was that all about?’”

Ray said it was love at first sight.

“Yeah, just like that,” he said, smiling.

Shortly after, Ruth received a letter in the mail from Ray about Aurora coming to Brownstown to play a basketball game, and he said he would like to pick her up and take her to the game.

“Well, in the meantime, my friend, Virginia Lucas, and I, we had season tickets, and I said, ‘Oh, Virginia, what am I going to do? I’m having a date. A man is coming to pick me up and taking me to this Aurora game.’ She said, ‘Here, take this ticket,’” Ruth said.

“My first date was free,” Ray said, laughing.

After that, Ray and Ruth dated for a while. Then Ray took a call to St. John’s Lutheran School in Rogers City, Michigan.

“It was way out there. I had never been away from home, and so he had to move,” Ruth said. “We didn’t have telephones yet. Well, we had telephones, but they cost. We had letters.”

In April 1954, Ray and Ruth became engaged, and on July 24, 1955, they got married at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brownstown. Ruth then moved to Michigan to be with her husband, who taught at the Lutheran school there for 32 years. She became a library clerk in the public school system.

While there, Ray enjoyed the outdoors, especially deer hunting season. Ruth said the schools would close on Nov. 15 so everyone could go deer hunting. Ray got his first deer in 1957.

“I got several bucks,” Ray said, smiling, of his time in Michigan.

The couple also did a lot of hiking and camping, and they enjoyed traveling during the summertime when school was closed. They also learned to polka and play a card game, spitzer.

“Winters were long. Snow could come around the later part of November and stay until April, so no more sitting around,” Ruth said. “We bought cross-country skis. The woods would be a quiet and peaceful place.”

In the warm months, they had a garden full of flowers, peach trees, cherry trees and more.

Both of their sons, Kurt and Karl, were born in Michigan.

Ray retired in 1987 and Ruth retired in 1992, and they moved to Seymour in 1993.

“I always thought we’d come back to Jackson County,” Ruth said.

Ray’s love of flowers continued, and Ruth said he had their home full of them.

He also picked up another skill: Crewel embroidery. Learning from his wife, he made several quilt tops and pictures. Only two remain in their home: One of an eagle and the other of hollyhock.

“I gave a lot of them away,” Ray said.

One highlight for Ray was going on an Indy Honor Flight with Kurt on Oct. 31, 2015. That gives veterans an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for a day to visit their war memorial and other sites.

“It was a good little experience for me,” Ray said.

Along with their two children, the Newkirks have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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