Centennial profiles in courage: Milestones and miracles, memories and legacies

Centenarian Joseph Parcheta at home on the Lake Michigan shore…

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by… John Masefield (Sea Fever)

Celebrating centennials intrigues us, because we celebrate them in so many different ways. We celebrate birthdays of famous people and birthdays of not-so-famous people; anniversaries of singular historical events and eras; historical buildings and homes; founding of organizations, churches, states, countries; great inventions; parks, monuments, memorials of enduring places.

Last year we celebrated the Centennial of our nation’s national parks, and even the San Diego Zoo. This year, I noticed, marks the hundredth year of two notable international service organizations Rotary and Lions Clubs. My grandfather was in Rotary, my dad in Lions long ago. My dad was a flight instructor in California during World War II. So, when I saw that last summer Boeing, the aerospace company, was 100, I thought about it spanning a century, from producing a single canvas-and-wood airplane to transforming how we fly over oceans and into the stars.

Milestones of a hundred years fascinate me this year because of two people who were born 100 years ago in 1917, and who’ve had their unique influence on my life. One is famous and revered as our 35th president; the other is my father-in-law, Joseph Parcheta. My father-in-law celebrated his 100th birthday on February 21, 2017. John F Kennedy, had he not been assassinated November 22, 1963, would be celebrating his 100th birthday on May 29.

My father-in-law and JFK (with vastly different backgrounds) shared a love of the water, boats, living by the sea. While JFK lived on the New England coast Atlantic Ocean and sailed the seas in the US Navy, my father-in-law grew up on  Lake Michigan, spent 30 plus years on the Atlantic Ocean in Southern Florida, moving back to his hometown on the Michigan shore in 2015.

Oceans and stars…the miracle of flight…centennials as windows of a hundred years. Centennials are windows revisited, much like going down to the sea again to immerse yourself in the feeling of continuity, the reassurance that life has meaning and will go forward, and that how we live our lives will somehow carry on.

Legacies do carry on. Perhaps the legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy being revisited during the coming year will inspire us anew during these crucial political times:

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has announced a year-long celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917, President Kennedy was the youngest president ever elected to office. To commemorate his centennial year, the JFK Library is spearheading a series of events and initiatives aimed at inspiring new generations to find meaning and inspiration in the enduring values that formed the heart of the Kennedy presidency.

This is a beautiful description of the JFK effect on many young people a half century ago:

President Kennedy inspired a generation to accept responsibility for its government, and its world, by taking political and social action. As president, he fought to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all Americans. He encouraged Americans to lift up those less fortunate than themselves, both at home and abroad. He challenged the nation to reach for the impossible and land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He set new directions for international diplomacy, seeking better relations with Latin America and newly independent nations. He reduced the threat of nuclear war by opening the lines of communication with Moscow and offering to help “make the world safe for diversity.”

John F. Kennedy’s legacy is a vision of political action and public service based on courage, service, inclusion, and innovation.

Profiles in courage come to mind during these times. I think of the courage of JFK, of course, and the monumental influence of his brief lifespan. Sometimes I imagine what the world would be like had he lived…especially at this time in world history. Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, wrote: Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. It seems apt for this time. I hope our democracy – that my father-in-law has lived through the past 100 years – will prevail.

The family celebrated the miracle milestone of his 100th year in February. It’s hard to grasp the idea that he is a centenarian. Now knowing a centenarian, when I learned of the JFK Centennial I began to imagine him being alive during this time, as well, celebrating being a centenarian. Alas, we can only imagine. His legacy will live on, yet you wonder what an influence he might have been since his passing in 1963.

Thinking back to those times, I was still in college and hadn’t met my husband, nor my future father-in-law, nor would I have any inkling of a father-in-law’s influence. Somehow, I’d not thought of our parents as contemporaries of JFK. But, of course, they were. That means that, when we got married, my father-in-law was 50. Amazing. A bit sheepishly, I admit, I’d never, ever thought of it. Looking back, naturally, 50 seems very young to me. Oh, what I could do if I were 50 again.

I think of profiles in courage and a vast conversation opens up. The legends of JFK are renowned. But, for me, just living to be 100 is a profile in courage. The legacies are different, but none the less important. They were each a human being, born in 1917, navigating the life given them to live.

Whenever I read the family genealogy that my husband’s cousin outlined about her uncle, Joseph Parcheta, I understand many levels of courage: Being orphaned at an early age, reconnecting with his family of Parchetas in west Michigan, helping with farming, working long hours in the woods in the lumber business, delivering coal and unloading coal cars, trying out Golden Glove boxing, driving gravel trucks, having a bakery route, taking over a general store my mother-in-law’s parents owned, raising Christmas trees, serving on school board, and in 1942 beginning a long career with Continental Motors, known for its aircraft products – and also a centennial company in 2005.

I see the courage it took to make all those changes in the early years to create a stable hearth and home for his wife and two sons. I see the eventual playful side – which I also think takes courage – to go off on another 30 year adventure leaving that hometown hearth to explore the Florida landscape and begin a new lifestyle of heading up golf and shuffleboard groups and keeping things going in their new community there.

Now, though, I see the courage it takes to be a centenarian, or anyone of a certain age, who knows their window is growing smaller. I see that we don’t really like change so much as we did when we were starting out in life. It’s harder to accept the changes, even though we’d like to, as another Niebuhr quote always reminds us: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s amazing what the window of one hundred years can reveal to you, when you look through its prism. Sometimes I think it’s a profile in courage to be willing to accept assistance when you’ve been so fiercely independent for a century.

There were oodles of memories shared at the birthday party.  Our kids had fun scouting out party fare for grandpa…and the elusive 100-year-decorations. Friends and family deemed the celebration a success: A wonderful time, wonderful friends and family being drawn into the story of Joseph Parcheta’s century.

Oceans and stars…the lonely sea and the sky…. Centennial visions and dreams connect us to something deep within us that weaves through the river of time – helping us find our moorings once again. It’s good to reflect on them. It’s good that we celebrate them.

Some blog memories:


16 centennials to celebrate around the world in 2016

JFK Centennial

JFK Library

American Spirit: Who We Are and What we Stand For

Wikipedia 1917

President Barack Obama wins Profile in Courage Award

American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

February 21 – British troopship SS Mendi is accidentally rammed and sunk off the Isle of Wight, killing 646, mainly members of the South African Native Labour Corps.[2]

Webster Dictionary/courage





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Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.