Betsy Swanback

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Roseburg man grabs his wheels and goes at 100 plus 1

Harry Bentz will grab his wheels and walk to the dining hall for dinner as usual tonight. But today isn’t any normal day. Bentz will turn 101.

Bentz and his walker, or wheels, as he calls it, walks around the Linus Oakes Retirement Village in Roseburg daily on his way to meet friends for coffee.

When asked if he has any plans for the big day, he remained nonchalant.

“I plan on staying alive, I guess,” he said with a laugh.

Bentz was born Aug. 23, 1912, on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania near Reading. He was the youngest of 13 children born to Louise and Daniel Bentz and grew up on a nine-acre farm with his siblings.

He left home at the age of 16 to join the Army after he lost interest in school.

“I didn’t like high school a bit, so I started looking to the service,” he said.

His alcoholic father was interested in the pay his son could get from the Army, Bentz said.

Bentz started out earning $21 a month in the service.

He transferred to the Army Air Corps soon after joining the service and moved to Panama before being transferred to the West Coast. The service took him to Hawaii and Alaska before settling mainly in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.

In 1942, Bentz married Geneva Lightner in Long Beach, Calif. The couple had three children, two boys and a girl. Their daughter was killed in a car accident in the mid-1990s and the couple moved to Roseburg in 1995.

Geneva died in 1998.

Fellow Linus Oakes resident Millie Kanewske said she enjoys spending time with Bentz.

“He’s a very witty, dry-wit kind of a guy who is a joy to be around,” she said.

Bentz retired from the Air Force in the 1970s but remained active, doing odd jobs for the military and working as a janitor for various schools, he said.

His son, Don Bentz, lives in Roseburg and visits his dad every other day.

“He’s as alert and independent as he’s always been,” Don Bentz said.

He said his father likes to go to Seven Feathers Casino Resort a few times a year, but spends most of his time sleeping and watching TV.

“He likes to stay pretty close to home,” he said.

Don Bentz said he went to 13 schools in 12 years growing up in a military family.

In addition to three children, Bentz has 11 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

“I’ve got grandkids from Seattle to San Diego to Delaware,” Harry Bentz said.

He described himself as an “independent old man.”

“I don’t want to be waited on. I want to be treated like everyone else,” he said.

Linus Oakes administrator Berta Dargen said Bentz is usually the first resident up for coffee in the morning.

“He’s just a teddy bear,” she said.

She said he walks twice a day on a treadmill for a short time, and she credited his habits of eating well, being active and having a good support network as keys to living to 101.

Bentz said he just keeps moving.

The residence hosted a small party with a birthday cake and punch this morning to celebrate the big day. Don Bentz said his father was more excited for his 100th birthday, but has never placed much importance on his natal date.

“He never has wanted to do anything for it,” he said. “But he was excited to turn 100.”

Harry Bentz said Friday is just another day.

“I’m a young kid growing old,” he said.

• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Aug 23, 2013 12:43PM Published Aug 25, 2013 12:28AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.