Man holds get-together for 100th birthday in Lincolnshire

Four generations of young men have followed Harold Siegel. Some sought to be popular with the ladies; some wanted to make their nation proud.

Siegel has seen a century come and go, and he has simple but daunting advice for any of today’s youths who aspire to become gentlemen:

“Do everything right,” the great-grandfather, World War II veteran and railroad man said. “Be on the right side.”

Siegel celebrated his 100th birthday on Aug. 2 with a family get-together in Lincolnshire and a party with his new neighbors — all younger than him — at Claremont of Buffalo Grove.

The family celebration, at Wildfire Steakhouse, attracted children, grandchildren and a niece from New Jersey, Florida and around the Chicago area.

“He’s just a kind, funny person, always caring for other people,” said his daughter, Jody Salus. “And a gentleman. Whenever I would walk with him, he would always walk on the curb side.”

Born in Chicago, Siegel said he grew up around the West Side, moving three or four times as a kid.

“The rents kept going up,” he said.

As many of his generation did, Siegel started working early — first at a grocery store. For $5 a week, he opened the store, often arriving before the owner and his wife.

His career started at the Chicago & North Western Transportation Company, but along came WWII. Drafted into the Army, he rose to sergeant and served in Europe.

Siegel recalled the ship that took him to London: the RMS Queen Mary. The Army packed its soldiers into the otherwise luxurious ocean liner so tightly that the staff converted the pool into a mess hall.

He confessed to hating the trip, and has refused to take a sea cruise since the war ended.

Siegel’s key to personal success in the military is simple and challenging: “I did whatever they told me to do. That’s why I was a good soldier.”

At the end of the war, the Army Air Corp’s 96th Bombardment Wing offered him an option: Become an officer and help rebuild demolished Europe, or return home. Siegel eagerly took the boat home.

His marriage to Yetta produced the family that today calls him Zadie — Yiddish for “grandfather.”

Decades went by, and the children — and then the grandchildren — grew. Siegel walked regularly up to age 99, and was the president of the residents’ association at the Vernon Hills facility he lived in until last year.

The walking — and doing as his doctors instructed — is what he credits to making it past the century mark.

For instance, Siegel has not tasted chocolate in 20 years. Back in the 1990s, his doctor said so.

He can still walk a bit, with some help, but is mostly confined to a wheelchair these days. Parkinson’s disease is showing itself in his left hand, and he pulled some muscles in his right shoulder earlier this month while reaching for something.

Having a century-old body is a neat story to tell, but a tough thing to maintain.

“It’s either A-OK, or it’s busted,” he said.

As a birthday treat, the kids brought in his favorite barber, Roy Kukla, to groom Siegel’s still-full head of silver hair. Sgt. Siegel, what is it about Kukla that appeals to you so much?

“He does whatever the customer asks him to do,” Siegel explained.

Siegel’s motto remains: Do what is right, and as instructed. And at least some potential gentlemen are listening.

“He was my role model growing up,” said Jordan Salus, one of Siegel’s grandsons.

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