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Quinter man keeping active lifestyle

9/26/2007

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

Hays Daily News

QUINTER -- R. Waldo McBurney has slowed down, but at nearly 105 years old, who can blame him.

Every day, almost like clockwork, McBurney drives to his downtown office. He then walks down to the post office a block away and picks up his mail.

He still keeps a few bees, but he's reluctant to do much with them because of how heavy the racks of honey are, and finding help as fall harvest approaches is becoming increasingly difficult.

Likely, there will be plenty of help come this weekend at an open house at the Jay Johnson Public Library in Quinter for McBurney, and his wife, Vernice.

The event will be a triple-treat, serving as birthday parties for Waldo McBurney, who turns 105 on Oct. 3, and Vernice, who turned 93 on Saturday.

It also will be a celebration of the release of McBurney's book, "My First 100 Years" in audio format. The event is from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In this audio version, it's Waldo and Vernice McBurney's voices that a person will hear. The audio book will be made available at the open house.

Now in its sixth printing, McBurney said he's surprised the printed version has done so well. He's also curious who might want the book in audio format.

The idea for the audio version came about nearly three months ago.

He gave it his best shot.

"Sometimes, I had to repeat a sentence three times to get it right," he said, his ever present smile showing. "My wife has a little in it, so she read that."

She had a much better go at recording her part for the book, he admits.

The book is not just about McBurney's long life. It's also about his foray into track and field events for senior citizens. In fact, he said, he still holds two world records, for shot put and the 100-meter race, both set when he was 100 years old, according to the USA Track and Field association.

Because of all that, Waldo McBurney nearly is a household name -- certainly in Quinter and the rest of Gove County, but in Kansas as well.

Just last year, McBurney was named America's oldest worker by Experience Works, the nation's largest provider of training and employment services for older workers.

He's been on national television countless times and featured in many national and local newspapers. Online, there's even a Wikipedia page about him as well as a YouTube video when he was on CBS when he was named the oldest worker.

* * *

McBurney is quick to apologize for the shape of things at his downtown office.

"I'm not a very good housekeeper," he said before letting people enter.

His priorities have changed.

His wife, he said, needs a bit of help, "so I've been spending as much time as I can with her."

He also noted age and the medication he's taking isn't letting his brain work as well as his body.

McBurney also had a heart attack six or seven months ago, and now wears a monitor on his wrist to keep track of his pulse.

While that has slowed him down, it hasn't stopped him.

"I went out the other day to a couple yards and took honey from them," he said. "I can't do much handling of honey. Honey is pretty heavy, so I have to have some help."

In the past, a neighbor has been willing to lend a hand.

"Right now, it's a little bad," he said of finding help. "It's wheat planting time, milo harvest time. So it's a little hard to get help."

This is the second marriage for both Waldo and Vernice McBurney.

"My first wife died after I was married 30 years," he said. When he married Vernice, "I got three boys and a wife thrown in."

"We've been married 40 years or so," he said.

But now, McBurney said, she suffers from fatigue.

"They don't know what causes it or the cure."

After working 15 to 20 minutes, she needs to rest, he said.

"I've lost a little bit of my balance, so we have to watch out for each other," McBurney said.

* * *

McBurney attended college in Sterling at Kansas State University, where he majored in agriculture with an emphasis in horticulture.

"I taught vocational agriculture for three years," he said. "Then I became a county agent for quite a few years."

He spent those years in Beloit and in Hill City.

Then a job came open in Quinter, his hometown.

"I was born 3 miles from here," he said. "I was gone 30 years and came back here. Lived and died here."

That's where McBurney's humor comes out.

"I have lived a lot of my life here, but I haven't died yet," he said, smiling again.

After he retired, he started cleaning seed for farmers.

"I retired from that when I was 90," he said.

He's had bees longer than anything, complete with two colonies at his house.

"There's some honey there to take off," he said. "But I can't carry it."

For now, McBurney is looking forward to the party -- with some mixed apprehension.

He's not sure how the audio book will sell.

"When we had the opening for the book, I autographed 170 copies," he said. "I don't have the vision on this audio book."

And while he will have some of the cake that's sure to be at the party, he'd just as soon duck out on some of the limelight.

"It sort of gets old," he said of the attention focused on his age and his accomplishments. "The local paper keeps printing my picture, writing what happens. Everybody I meet on the street knows me."

It's difficult to remember everyone's names, he said.

But each day, he travels to his shop next to the Quinter City Building, opens the door and flips over the open sign in the narrow vertical window.

"I haven't spent a lot of time in here," he said. "I usually get the mail and then go home."

Special-projects coordinator Mike Corn can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 129, or by e-mail at mcorn@dailynews.net.