'Bud' Still Blooming Even at 100 [VIDEO]
Longtime Bloomingdale resident, firefighter celebrates milestone birthday.
When Laurence “Bud” Bennett was born, “Big Bill” Taft was president.
The New York Giants beat the Athletics of Philadelphia, 2-1, at the Polo Grounds in what was then the most well attended professional baseball game in the sport's brief history. It would be another two years before the New York Highlanders became the Yankees.
The Bloomingdale Fire Department was scarcely a year old and Route 23, today’s six-lane highway of big box stores, malls, fast food restaurants and Jersey jug handles, was a dirt road.
“I was born in Butler, but when I was 4, we moved,” said Bennett, honored last week by the fire department that he’s been a member of since 1947.
“There was nothing there," he said. "Just dirt roads.”
Bennett, one of six children, got his nickname from an older sister who was unable to pronounce Laurence. “And it stuck all these years,” he said.
In 1927, Bennett, who had been working on a farm “for 25 cents an hour” became an auto mechanic at Rhinesmith’s Garage on Hamburg Turnpike. It was the same year the state started building Route 23.
“We worked on Model T’s when I started,” said Bennett, conceding Henry Ford’s mass produced flivver “wasn’t a bad car... I bought my first one for $50.” Benett's favorite automobile, though, was a ‘74 Chevy Monte Carlo.
In 1936, Bud got married, and in 1938, he moved to Bloomingdale in the little house by the fire station “to be closer to work.” Bennett said he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio in Rhinesmith’s and tried to enlist. “I went for a physical and they said I had a collapsed lung,” he said.
For more than 30 years, Bennett was also the Bloomingdale tax assessor.
“A councilman asked me to take the job because the fellow before was leaving. I did that nights, weekends, whenever I had time off," Bennett said. "I was the one who had to go before the county board when people appealed their taxes.”
In 1946, Bennett joined the Bloomingdale Fire Department, where he still works on many firehouse affairs like ziti dinners and mingling with his myriad of friends and acquaintances. He had to retire from active duty in 1976 when he reached 65.
Ray Fetherman has known Bennett close to 60 years. “I moved in next to him in 1955,” Fetherman said. Bennett built the house in 1949 and still lives there.
“I got to know him very well because at the time he worked at the garage and like a lot of other people, I would stop there and get my gas going and coming.” said Fetherman, one of the organizers of Bennett’s 100th birthday celebration, which included a letter of recognition from President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in addition to Bennett’s favorite foods, a plaque honoring him and two cakes, one with a cartoon Bennett extinguishing a huge frosting blaze.
Fetherman and Bennett have been partners at the annual fire conventions for more than a decade.
“This year, figuring he’d be 100, I thought I’d put one over on him. One year I buy dinner," Fetherman said. "The next year he buys dinner. So I said to him, ‘It’s your turn to pay.' Bud turns back and says, ‘I ain’t that old yet.'"
Nancy Disbrow, Bennett’s youngest daughter, visits her father every day. “He’s an awesome father and I am proud to be his daughter,” she said
She said the birthday party was her dad’s idea. “He wanted the party. He said, ‘This is what I want. This is what I want to eat.' The firemen took over and they really did a beautiful job,” she said.
A few hundred people attended the party at the fire station to eat, drink and share anecdotes about the slight, soft-spoken centenarian with close-cropped hair and lively blue eyes. Bennett was also honored Oct. 25 by the Bloomingdale mayor and council after they proclaimed Oct. 14, 2011 "Bud Bennett Day."
When asked if he still chased the ladies, one of Bennett's longtime friends quipped: "They chase him." Bennett didn't deny it, adding with a smile he was there "with a lady friend."
He said he doesn't recollect many of his early birthdays. “Back then it was just another day,” he said.
Bennett’s eldest daughter lives in Pennsylvania where he and his wife bought a house on a lake when he retired (1979 from the garage, 1980 as tax assessor). He has four grandchildren, the oldest being 33, including one who works as a teacher and another as a secret service agent.
Bennett said he eats whatever he wants. “I can't think of anything I don't like... I keep busy with the house, working in the yard and my garden,” he said. He’s particularly proud of the white eggplant he grows.
And the secret to his longevity?
“I have a glass of red wine every afternoon,” said Bennett, whose philosophy is “to take it one day at a time.”