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Why act your age?

Paynesville man remains quite active, engaged in his community at age 90

When children behave inappropriately, we often tell them to act their age.

The same thing can be said for Willie Scheel. The 90-year-old Paynesville resident doesn’t act his age at all. He acts like a man half his age.

When this interviewer arrived at his home on the west edge of town, Scheel was outside shoveling snow with the temperature barely over 10 degrees.

It was recently that he finally stopped downhill skiing in Colorado and other places with his wife, Gloria, 77.

“I think the last time we went skiing was five years ago. I’m too old to ski now,” he joked. “We skied  for 35 years in 26 ski areas, including the French Alps and a couple of places in Canada.”

Scheel, a businessman for many years in Rice and Paynesville, is very popular and well liked within the community. When he turned 90 on Oct. 28, the Paynesville Area Center hosted a party in his honor. There were 240 people in attendance.

“He is such a special guy,” said Inez Jones, the director at the Paynesville Area Center. “He has a wonderful sense of humor. He still dances, plays ping pong and is very involved at the Center. He and his wife volunteer to help out with a lot of things here.”

When told that he is doing things that some men decades younger aren’t capable of, Scheel revealed his patented smirk, then remarked: “I don’t believe a word you are saying.”

In fact, the entire interview was like a vaudeville show. Scheel was much more comfortable utilizing his exceptional quick wit or by telling joke after joke than he was talking about himself.

“Did you hear the one about ….?” became a standard answer to most of the questions posed to him. If only we all enjoyed life this much.

“He’s always been like this,” said Gloria, smiling as she looked up from a magazine she was perusing. “He still makes me laugh a lot.”

Scheel was born on Oct. 28, 1924, on a farm in Rice, although his birth certificate erroneously lists his date of birth as Oct. 24.

“I’m so old that I was born before there was history,” Scheel wisecracked.

“I’m half German, one-quarter Norwegian, and one-quarter English, but most people think I am all Scotch,” came yet another zinger from Scheel.

Scheel went to high school in Foley as a freshman and then spent the next three years at Sauk Rapids High School, graduating in 1941. He walked a mile and a quarter one way just to meet the bus. On Nov. 11, 1940, he started out for his daily commute to the bus stop when the Armistice Day blizzard struck.

“I made it to the bus stop, but the bus never made it, so I started walking back home,” Scheel said. “I lost site of the road and ended up in the woods. Luckily, I was in familiar territory and made it back home.”

Upon graduation, Scheel joined the Navy and was stationed in Virginia as a 3rd Class Aviation Ordinance Man and Gunnery Instructor for 26 months.

Not long after, Scheel began one of his many business ventures when he and a cousin opened Willie and Swede’s Rolling Roller Rink while he was living in Rice.

“There were four surrounding towns that we would go to,” said Scheel. “We would rent out the city halls at these towns and then we would bring skates to rent, music (78 rpm records) to play and pop and candy to sell. Skates were only 25 cents to rent. People really enjoyed it. We had 125 come to skate when we went to Paynesville.”

Willie and Swede then built and opened S&S Drive-Inn in 1948 outside of town on old Highway 55 that featured 5-cent root beer, hamburgers for 25 cents, and a shrimp basket that sold for just one dollar.

We had a special where you could get two hamburgers and fries in a basket for 50 cents,” Scheel said. “That’s probably why I’m broke today.”

When Highway 55 was rebuilt in the early 1950s, Willie moved the food stand to the north side of the highway and continued his propensity to expand and modify. He eventually had a Mobil station, 10 motel units, 20 apartments, and the Black Saucer Supper Club with a game room and bus depot.

“And I sold Christmas trees in December,” he added. “All in all, we had more than 200 employees to help with all the jobs.”

Willie and Gloria married in 1959. And the two continued to buy, sell, modify, expand, and renovate until 2003. Over the years, Willie owned five Cadillac convertibles and drove royalty in 22 parades a summer in several communities for 32 years until 2007.

The couple, heading into their 56th year of marriage, did not have children together, although Willie has three children from a previous marriage. Willie and Gloria currently own a housing development called WillGlo (short for Willie and Gloria) Acres, a subdivision addition to the city of Paynesville where the Scheel’s home is currently located.

The Scheels continue to stay active, traveling all over the country. They have also been to such places as Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Holland, Switzerland, France, Italy and Canada.

For the past 14 years, they have been volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program.

“Willie drives, but we take turns delivering them to the people,” said Gloria. “The places we deliver to are spread out so we drive about 20 miles each time. It used to be even more than that.”

Willie estimated that they have delivered over 14,000 meals so far.

He did have a setback 17 years ago when he had surgery for larynx cancer. Because half of his larynx was removed, he now speaks in a loud whisper.

“Sometimes when I talk for a long while, I have to stop to catch my breath,” he said. “Maybe that’s a sign that I shouldn’t talk so much.”

Willie has had four more surgeries for growths on his face, ears and neck. But he is in relatively good health. He refuses to take prescription drugs and instead takes herbal supplements and the sort. And he eats healthy food. “He takes good care of himself,” Gloria said.

Either Willie’s clock stopped working years ago or he’s discovered the Fountain of Youth in Paynesville.

For exercise, Willie plays ping pong four nights a week at the high school in Paynesville. There are four others that play, all several decades younger than him.

“I can’t find anyone my age to play with,” he laughed. “But I’m having fun with the younger ones who do play.”

Not much slows Willie down. Not a bout with cancer, not the cold weather, and certainly not Father Time.

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