When John Adolph was growing up in rural Jennings County in the 1910s, none of his neighbors drove cars.
He used horse-drawn plows to prepare the family’s fields for corn and wheat. He attended a one-room schoolhouse, where all the area children learned together.
Much has changed in Adolph’s nearly 103 years, but the Franklin resident has adapted with the times. He is a whiz with the computer, using email to communicate with family and friends. He keeps a cellphone, and until a few years ago, drove his car.
When he celebrates his birthday Thursday, Adolph will reflect on a varied and rich life. He has traveled as far as Australia and New Zealand, climbed to the top of Pike’s Peak and fished throughout the United States.
ABOUT JOHN ADOLPH
Born: Feb. 28, 1910
Home: Indiana Masonic Home, Franklin
Occupation: Printer with the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News; retired in 1973
Family: Married to Mildred Forgey Adolph in 1935; she died in 2000.
Memberships: Brookside Masonic Lodge, 32nd degree Mason of the Scottish Rite, Devol Lodge 766 F&AM, International Typographical Union, Communication Workers of America, Old-Time Printers Association of Indianapolis, and Allisonville Christian Church
He says his multitude of experiences and willingness to try new things have kept him young.
“I don’t know why I’ve lived so long. I guess I had good genes. I never had a wreck, never had a ticket. I’ve never been arrested, never been in jail. I lived the right way,” he said.
Adolph has lived at the Indiana Masonic Home’s independent living facility for the past nine years. His one-bedroom apartment is decorated with mementos of more than a century of living.
Framed photographs of his life on the Jennings County farm hang in collages on the bedroom walls. Framed artwork of the outdoors — mountains, lakes, ducks landing on a pond — hang in the living room.
Adolph is an avid fly-fisherman and makes his own hard-bodied lures.
“I always could fish,” he said.
Adolph was born in Jennings County on Feb. 28, 1910, and was raised by his grandparents. They lived on a farm, where Adolph was schooled in the do-everything attitude of rural Indiana.
The family tapped its maple trees to make syrup in the spring. He helped slaughter pigs for bacon and ham and sheared the sheep for wool yarn.
When he was 16, he left the family home to learn a profession and make a living.
For much of his life, Adolph worked as a journeyman printer. He started as an apprenticeship at the Seymour Daily Tribune, where he learned to set type and divide the words to make clear margins in the printed page. One of his first jobs was to set up a sale bill.
He set everything up in the type chase then printed it on the paper’s Washington press.
“I did that all with the power of my foot,” he said on working the small printing press. “It was enjoyable work.”
At 22, Adolph found work with Indianapolis Newspapers, which published the Star and the News. He belonged to the International Typographical Union and the Communication Workers of America and joined the Brookside Masonic Lodge in 1936.
“He learned his trade and saved his money. That was something he learned very young,” said Nina West, his daughter.
While living in Indianapolis, he met the woman who would be his wife. Mildred Forgey was working in a fair stand, and they were set up on a blind date.
“Right there, it was love at first thing. It just hit,” he said. “I couldn’t have had a better wife.”
The couple eventually moved to the Nora neighborhood of Indianapolis and had two children, Nina and Jim.
Adolph built both of his own houses, including the wiring and plumbing, and finished the basements. He built a knotty pine bar and had handmade cabinets installed.
Adolph was a longtime leader in the Boy Scouts and was tabbed to head up a Civil Defense contingent in the Nora area.
“We were afraid the Russians were going to come over and bomb us. I had five nurses under my command, so we practiced first aid in case something happened,” he said.
From his time on the farm, Adolph learned to be resourceful with what was available to him. West showed horses growing up, and Adolph helped retrofit an old van so it could pull a horse trailer. When they were at shows, father and daughter camped out while everyone else stayed in a hotel.
The Adolphs became known for their garden, where they grew flowers to sell wholesale. Towering delphiniums sprouted throughout their property. They used the profits to pay for college for their children.
“He’d come home from work, and he and mom would be out there for hours cutting flowers,” West said.
But Adolph isn’t prepared to slow down these days.
A favorite poem of his, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, reads, “I was not old nor was I through with life; I had things to do and promises to keep and maybe another mile to go before I slept.”
He shot his first deer as an 89-year-old. Much of his traveling came when he was in his 90s.
He and West visited wildlife preserves on the Galapagos Islands, hiked the jungles of Puerto Rico and walked the beaches of Naples, Fla.
They took a cruise up the New England coast and stood at the foot of glaciers in Alaska.
“We just stick him in his wheelchair and push him through. He can still go almost anywhere,” West said.