Walter Breuning, world's oldest man, turns 114

11:47 AM, Sep 22, 2010   |    comments
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Walter Breuning sits in a chair at the Rainbow Retirement Community in Great Falls, Montana. Breuning turned 114 on Tuesday.

Great Falls, Mont. -- Walter Breuning was a century old when he walked into a downtown Great Falls, Montana bank in the mid-1990s to take advantage of a promotion.

Five-year certificates of deposit were being offered at a special rate, and Breuning wanted to take advantage of the deal, according to former Great Falls resident Gavin Seeberger, now of Portland, Ore. His father is former Great Falls banker John Seeberger, a onetime Great Falls school board chairman.

The elder Seeberger and another bank representative politely told Breuning he might want to consider a two-year certificate of deposit instead.

"Mr. Breuning firmly declined and insisted on a five-year CD, saying that he would be there to collect it in person at maturity," Gavin Seeberger said.

And that's exactly what happened. Breuning waltzed into the bank at age 105 and collected his earnings.

"That is being sure of one's self," Seeberger said.

This tale reveals a few character traits of Breuning, who worked as a railroad clerk in Montana for half a century.

"He is outspoken; he says what he thinks," said George Pamenter, a fellow resident at Rainbow Retirement Community in downtown Great Falls and a pal of Breuning.

Breuning also is forward-looking, even at his age.

Today, the plain-spoken Breuning turns 114 years old, remaining the oldest man in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group. Breuning also is September's Super Centenarian of the Month on's World's Oldest People group.

This month, Breuning also stands as the verified fourth-oldest person in the world. The top three are women from France, Texas and Georgia, each of whom was born in 1896, but earlier than Breuning's September birthday. Breuning also is ranked in 79th or 74th place for longest-lived person of all time, and in 7th or 5th place for longest-lived man, according to Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records.

Those rankings depend on whether some people whose ages are disputed are included on the list, Young said.

Breuning was born in the rural Minnesota town of Melrose and moved in 1918 to Great Falls, where he worked for the Great Northern Railway.

His wife, a railroad telegraph operator from Butte named Agnes, died in 1957. She was a good cook, according to Breuning. The couple had no children.

One of Breuning's greatest regrets was not serving in the military. He was not called up for service during World War I, and he was in his 40s and considered too old to fight when World War II broke out.

As it turns out, longevity runs in much of Breuning's family, although his parents died at ages 50 and 46. His paternal grandparents lived into their 90s, and three siblings lived to ages 85, 91 and 100. Another brother died at age 78.

Of course, Walter Breuning takes the cake in the family for living a long life.

At an invitation-only birthday party Tuesday afternoon, he is expected to eat cake and deliver a birthday speech at the Rainbow in downtown Great Falls. Gov. Brian Schweitzer is set to attend, along with representatives from the "Guinness Book of World Records," MontanaPBS, the building's owners and Masonic, Shrine and Scottish Rite groups.

Breuning, who delivered a well-received speech at his birthday celebration last year, is hard at work on another address for this year, according to Tina Bundtrock, executive director of the Rainbow.

"He never discloses what he's going to talk about," Bundtrock said. But, she added, "he's been fantastic" during the last year.

One might think all the hubbub over Breuning would get old to some fellow residents.

But several Rainbow dwellers said in interviews last week that they take Breuning's fame in stride.

"I didn't know he was a celebrity; he's just lived a long time," quipped 92-year-old resident Ray Milversted. He said he doesn't mind Breuning living in the Rainbow, but he expressed sympathy for the world's oldest man, who has visitors "waiting in line and all asking the same questions."

When he turned 113 years old, Breuning finally had to "duck and hide" to avoid more questions and gawking, Milversted said.

Bundtrock said the facility has adopted a policy of scheduling visits with Breuning by appointment only, so the building's most famous resident is not taxed by people dropping in to see him.

Milversted said Breuning is "a nice person" and "not a pain."

"He's a gentleman," said Ray's wife, Genese Milversted. "His stately walk and his (active) mind is something to be admired."

Resident Ray Stingley, who is retired from U.S. West, said his granddaughter and other relatives are happy that Breuning lives in the building and will talk to them.

"I think he's a great man, to be honest with you," the 87-year-old Stingley said. He added that he admires the fact Breuning never even needed a cane or walker to help him move around until the last few years.

Margie Arganbright, 80, pronounced it "wonderful" to have Breuning live in the same facility.

"He's such a gentleman," Arganbright said.

Several residents said they enjoy Breuning's habit of donning a pinstriped suit and tie every day, defying the casual nature of modern times.

At 92, Theresa Luoma said she doesn't give a second thought to Breuning living in the former Rainbow Hotel, although she finds him an interesting fellow.

"He is just an ordinary guy, just like the rest of us," Luoma said, adding she plans to attend the birthday bash for Breuning.

"If it's right here, you almost have to," she said with a chuckle.

Myrtle Schultz, 90, said she is thrilled to live in the same building as the world's oldest man.

"I think it's great to put Montana on the map," Schultz said. "You'd never know he was that old. We're so proud of him."

Richard Ecke, The Great Falls Tribune

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