Over the course of nearly 40 years, one home in Southport became known as a neighborhood food bank.
Strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus grew in patches in the family’s garden. Gale Stohler tended beans, cabbage and other vegetables.
A small orchard with eight apple trees provided fruit through late summer into fall. Apples, stored in the cellar, could last through the winter so they had access year-round.
That constant access to fresh food may have something to do with Stohler’s longevity. He turned 100 on Dec. 19, celebrating the occasion with his sons that evening. A large party for friends and extended family was a few days later.
Throughout his life, Stohler traveled through the entire continental U.S., Europe and other foreign countries. He served in World War II, worked for the Internal Revenue Service and loved to square-dance with his wife, Lucille.
Stohler can’t pinpoint what has helped him live to be 100, but he suspects it was clean living. The Stohlers were ahead of their time in regards to nutrition. They avoided too much red meat and regularly ate fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Plus, I don’t smoke. I smoked one cigarette my entire life, just one,” he said.
In his Greenwood Village apartment, Stohler’s coffee table was covered with cards and wishes for a happy birthday. He remains in good health, able to move around on his own and only needing a walker if he needs to travel throughout the Greenwood Village facility.
“He hadn’t been projecting, even a week ago, that he was going to make it. But he did,” joked his son, Jim Stohler.
Gale and Lucille Stohler moved to the apartment in 2006. Though she died in February, he still lives in the spacious room by himself. He’s able to care for himself, though a home service aide comes to see him in the mornings and afternoons throughout the week.
Stohler grew up on his family’s farm in Madison County near Anderson. They raised nearly everything that they needed to eat. They tended cows, pigs and chickens and planted soybeans, corn and oats. Gardens provided them with tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and other produce.
Stohler milked his first cow when he was 7 and regularly performed farm chores. He recalls plowing and discing fields with horse-drawn machinery; no one had an engine-driven tractor in those days, he said.
When he wasn’t working on the farm, Stohler played basketball. He was a forward on the Marklesville High School varsity team and carried that love of the game through his entire life.
As an adult, he took his children to Indiana Pacers games when they still were in the old American Basketball Association. Living near what is now called the University of Indianapolis, they’d sit in the stands and watch the team play on weekends.
Indiana University basketball games were always on the television.
“We got a TV in 1953, just so we could watch IU basketball,” Don Stohler said.
When World War II broke out, Stohler joined the U.S. Army. He was a master sergeant in the supply corps, serving under Gen. George Patton in western Europe.
His service had an interesting symmetry — he ended up serving three years, three months, three weeks and three days before he was discharged.
After returning from Europe, Stohler and his wife, Lucille, settled into a two-bedroom house on Dearborn Street on the southside. A few years later, they moved to Southport, where they raised two sons, Don and Jim, and a daughter, Joann.
“Believe it or not, that house cost $5,000, with a basement, central heating and a garage,” Stohler said.
He worked as a executive supervisor for the Internal Revenue Service. He was a certified public account, earning his certification in 1948 after leaving the Army. He rode the bus to work and would use vacation time in small increments to come home early in the summer and work in the garden.
Gardening was his passion. He would spend hours tending to the plants, including three fields of strawberries. The family couldn’t eat all of the produce he grew, so often he gave it away to neighbors and people who needed it at their church.
“He was the first food bank. People would come, and he’d give them what they need. He’d even pick it for them,” Don Stohler said.
They attended University Heights United Methodist Church, serving in a variety of service projects and ministries. Lucille and Gale Stohler were regulars on weekend trips and would eat lunch after worship on Sunday with the group.
The family would take a regular vacation to Crystal Lake in northern Michigan, a tradition that has grown to include children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
They fished for bass and perch in the clear water, swam and had barbecues.
“Mostly, it was just relaxing,” Stohler said.
The family threw a large party for Stohler on Dec. 22, and family from all over the country, as well as friends, attended. While he’s honored to have so many people recognize his birthday, he doesn’t entirely see what the big deal was.
“I don’t feel any different,” he said.