Belding man celebrates his century

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 2:34 pm on Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Earnest Strecker, right, of Belding, will celebrate his 100th birthday today with a small family party. A much larger surprise party is planned for this Sunday, courtesy of his daughter, Arlene Cunningham, left. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

BELDING — Earnest Strecker was only 3 years old and living in Spencer Township when the Bolshevik Revolution swept across Russia, ending the rein of the czars and ushering in the era of the Soviet Union.

Most 3-year-old kids don’t notice that sort of thing, especially when it’s taking place half a world away.

But Strecker also saw communism’s iron grip loosen and the Soviet Union fall apart 70-odd years later.

In the long decades between those events, the horse and buggy gave way to the automobile; film, radio, television, personal computers and cell phones changed the way the world communicated; men walked on the moon; Kennedy, Kennedy and King were assassinated; the Depression devastated America and much of the world; World Wars I and II were fought, more wars followed in Korea and Vietnam.

For Strecker, that was only the start; since 1990, like the rest of the world, he has seen time rush by like hurricane: the bombing of the World Trade Center, the arrest of the Unabomber, Hong Kong’s return to China, Columbine, Elian Gonzales, Lewinsky, Y2K, Giffords, Occupy Wall Street, the Joplin tornado, Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon bombing, Defense of Marriage Act …

In the past 100 years, Strecker has seen a lot, both good and bad. But today as he celebrates a century of living, one can’t help but feel he’s enjoyed a rich, full life and has come to appreciate every precious moment of it. Though the body that carries his memories has grown (maybe) a little frail with age, he still gets around pretty good.

In the summer, the Belding man continues to garden — raising blueberries is his specialty. Though his hunting days may be for the most part behind him, he still manages to pull a fish or two out of the area’s many lakes.

He’s quick to point out that “nobody should have to live this long,” but he makes the comment with a wry smile that belies the words. He will continue to enjoy life, he says, as long as somebody keeps bringing him his meals.

One of nine children born to his parents, Strecker is the oldest living sibling. Born near Cedar Springs, in the town of Harvard, Strecker’s family eventually moved to Palo, where he met Maggie Hancock, the woman he would marry and love until her death in 2006. The couple would bring three children — Harold, Geraldine and Arlene – into the world, raising them all in their rural Belding home, where Strecker still resides.

On Sunday, Arlene — now Arlene Cunningham — will be hosting a big surprise birthday bash for her father. Writing about it in the newspaper won’t ruin the surprise, according to Cunningham.

“He can still see okay,” she explained, “but he really can’t see well enough to read the paper anymore.”

Strecker poses with his wife of many decades, Maggie, who died in 2006. The couple brought three children into the world, who on Sunday is hosting a surprise birthday for her father. — Courtesy photo

Cunningham’s brother, Harold, will be joining the party, along with the rest of the family; children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews. Cunningham plans a small, informal birthday party for earlier in the week, just to throw her father “off the scent.”

Whether the ruse will work is anyone’s guess. Strecker’s 100, but he’s still got plenty of spice left in the cabinet. His health, says Cunningham, remains quite good.

“He is in good health,” Cunningham said. “He’s had a couple little bouts and wound up in the hospital, but he bounces right back. We try to stay with him in the hospital, but eventually he says, ‘It’s time for you guys to go home now; you’ve been here long enough.’

In his younger days, Strecker was an avid hunter, fisherman and horseman. — Courtesy photo

“He’s quite a character.”

Cunningham said she’s hopeful the surprise party will be a big event in her father’s life and, if nothing else, break up the monotony of winter. Like the rest of the state, Strecker is looking forward to spring and the chance to get back outdoors.

“He still tinkers a lot,” Cunningham said. “He loved to hunt deer and in his younger days he hunted rabbits and squirrels. And he has always had that garden. Every year, he still gets his big, old tractor out and plows that field. He’s just amazing.”

Those wishing to send birthday greetings to Strecker may mail them care of Arlene Cunningham, 4273 Belding Road, Belding, MI 48809.

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