Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy 80th Grandpa!

It's Grandpa John's 80th birthday today! Happy b-day! We're having a party for him on Saturday - it's totally going to rock! Anyway, I wrote an article about him that will be in the Magna times this week, but I wanted to post it - I had so much to write about, Grandpa has had such a full and wonderful life! Enjoy!When asked what he wanted for his birthday this year, John J. Wilson of Magna answered how he always does.
"I just want everyone to be happy," he said. " That's what I want, a happy family."
John began his 80-year journey on September 9, 1929 in New Harmony, Indiana. In the cabin where he attended grammar school his mother was the teacher. Every day after school John would hurry home to fix a can of beef stew, and plant himself on the most sought after stool in the house to listen to Jack Armstrong on the radio.
John also made what little money he could as a child, selling produce and newspapers on street corners. On the day his father passed away he remembers selling strawberries in particular.
"Especially after the Indianapolis 500, I made 13 cents selling 13 papers. A penny a paper I made," he said.
After selling their house for 550 dollars, his mother made the journey to Salt Lake City alone in 1942 for medical and family reasons. Her four boys, John being the second oldest, soon followed on a Greyhound bus. He spent the remainder of his adolescence at Emerson Junior High, and finally West High where he graduated in 1947.
"We used to sneak in the gym at the ward house and play basketball all night," he chuckled, "until the janitor caught us and kicked us out. Then we'd play kick the can and stuff like that.
"I had a little scooter I rode to school. The chain would always come off about half way there and it would have to push it the rest of the way. I was always late for school."
During his teen years he spent countless hours swimming, he didn't play sports in high school, but always thought he should have. He also took a job cleaning Emerson Junior High, but never enjoyed the work. To avoid working John would curl up in a pile of papers on his porch and hide.
He first saw his wife Gladys while driving down North Temple, she was riding a bus. He saw her and had to follow.
"That was fun," John said. "She can tell you better than I can. It was the second of April, 1950. I was in the car and she was on the bus on Third West and North Temple. I thought she was a pretty girl."
"He waved, had his head hanging out the window and I just waved back," Gladys said.
John and two friends followed the bus until Gladys got off.
"We about ran her over," John said.
What did you say to me?" Gladys asked.
"Do you go to West? Something like that."
He ended up following her home, then stayed to talk. That night four couples piled in John's green '41 Ford for date night. Gladys and John's relationship started out as friendship.
On Sept. 18, 1950 John enlisted in the Air Force.
"My older brother was in (the Air Force)," John explained. "I joined because of the Korean war and they were going to draft me. If they draft you they put you in the army and I didn't want to be in the army."
John started with boot camp in San Antonio, Texas.
"It was eight days too long," John said. "It should have been three or four weeks, but we got it in eight days."
Service in the Air Force brought John to Massachusetts first, working on Westover Air Force Base loading planes. John loaded everything from hardtack candy to underwear.
"They checked all my top secret clearance," he said. "The guys back in Salt Lake thought I was in jail when they started asking questions. The FBI, or whoever it was, came around asking questions about my character."
At Washington National Airport, John escorted VIPs like Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Count Basie and Louie Armstrong to and from their planes.
While away John and Gladys stayed in touch through letters. When John returned home he made his way to Richfield, where Gladys was staying for the summer with her father. She was working at an ice cream shop when John and his friend Devon Moses showed up.
"I was back where the booths were," Gladys said, "when I came around to the counter there they sat. I couldn't believe it. I was dumbfounded."
"She made good milkshakes," John chimed in.
From there, as they say, the rest is history. John and Gladys were married on Sept.12, 1952. Following their marriage in the Salt Lake City and County Building, John returned to Washington D.C. and Gladys soon joined him. Gladys made the journey back to Utah when she became pregnant.
Their oldest son Clyde was born in the army barracks at the Tooele Army Depot. John caught a ride on Eisenhower's plane to Colorado and hitch-hiked the rest of the way to be home for the birth.
"I didn't know I was in the same plane as Eisenhower," John said. "I knew I was going to go on his plane, but I didn't know he was on it. i fell asleep before we took off and I woke up and there he was, believe it or not."
The Wilsons added to their family when their second son Deward came along, followed by Dixie, Chad and Maridawn. With over 50 years of marriage behind them, the future is filled with enjoying family which includes 10 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one on the way.
John's life has also been filled with service to the Boy Scouts of America. John started up his Boy Scout career in Troop 82 around the age of eight, while still living in Indiana. As a leader, beginning in 1966, he was able to pass on knowledge and a love for service to the young men in his troupe.
Wilson received the Silver Beaver award for his scouting work, along with 21 Eagle Scouts that came out of his troops, The Wood Badge and countless other scouting honors.
He has also spent thousands of hours raising money for the Magna war veterans memorial. Asking for donations from any business he heard about, John was able to collect enough to raise new flags, build the monument and maintain the grounds. The memorial was dedicated in November 1996, all because of the loving labor put forth by a dedicated man.
This year he embarks on 80 years of a grand life, but to him, the change is merely mathematical.
"Turning 80 is no more like turning 50," John said. "I don't feel any older, I act it, but I don't feel it. My legs tell me I'm older."
John has spent his life giving to others. Nothing can stand in his way when he gets an idea in his mind, and likewise no one could be more generous with his time. His family is so proud to call him husband, dad and grandpa. And no one could be a better friend, neighbor or member of the community.

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