By Stephanie Dolan
Some lifetimes come and go in a matter of days… even hours. Others, like the life lived by John Reimer of Indianapolis, span a century.
Reimer has been a lifelong Southsider and has spent time delivering papers as a child, going to war as a young man, working as a salesman in adulthood and giving back to his community in his retirement.
This past Saturday, friends and family came together to celebrate his 100th birthday at Lauck and Veldof Funeral Home on South Meridian Street. This grand party was truly a celebration of a life well-lived and partygoers arrived in droves to congratulate the man of the hour on reaching the milestone that so few ever attain.
“I got to thinking how neat it would be to have a living wake,” godson Denny Fitzpatrick said at Reimer’s birthday party. “This is truly what this is. We have Irish music, Irish food and Irish guests. Even better – the guest of honor is still with us.”
Fitzpatrick, now 73, used to accompany Reimer to many of his appointments for Mooney’s Pharmacy Company, a job he took after returning from his service in the Army during World War II.
“John used to take me as a little boy around on some of the sales calls to area drugstores,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a second father to me.”
“They lived across the street from us,” Reimer said of Fitzpatrick’s family, recalling just one of the many heartwarming events shared with his godson.
“Sacred Heart Catholic Church would always have a Father’s Day breakfast and it was a father/son situation,” Fitzpatrick said. “My father was an officer with the Indianapolis Police Department and so a lot of times he would be on duty and John would say, ‘I’ll take you to the father/son breakfast.’”
“He was so excited the first breakfast I took him to that he didn’t eat a bite,” Reimer said.
“He really was John’s little sidekick from the get-go,” family friend Jeannie Perry said of Fitzpatrick.
“We’ve known him since our children were small,” she said of herself and her family.
Perry and Reimer met at church and Perry’s children immediately took to Reimer as a grandfather figure.
“In church, people would think they were my grandkids,” Reimer said. “And I’d have to tell them, ‘no, I’m not married, and I don’t have any children. They’re just friends.’”
“My daughter Georgi is especially close with him,” Perry said. “Her grandfather died when she was very young and she sort of moved John into that position.”
“I was invited to a lot of birthday parties,” Reimer said, laughing.
There may not have been as many birthday parties during Reimer’s childhood.
“I had an older sister and a younger one who died in a flu epidemic,” he said, mentioning how sick he was too. “They put my mother, my sister and me all in one room at St. Francis. They certainly wouldn’t do that nowadays.”
Reimer said that it didn’t start to become clear how much the Southside was changing until after World War II.
“People used to walk to school,” he said. “You used to know your neighbors. I was an air raid warden before I went into service. They told me to go down both sides of the street to find out if people had escape routes from their homes. I said I didn’t have to. I knew everyone. But that’s not the way it is anymore.”
Reimer said that one of the few things about the Southside that hasn’t changed is Shapiro’s.
“I remember the famous Shapiro’s when it was one room and the grandparents were running the thing,” he said. “He would put a suit coat and an apron and a hat on. They had a place where they sold jars of pickles and sliced meats. They’re still there – same location. I used to call on a drug store nearby, so I relate to that location.”
Upon entering the service, Reimer worked at an evacuation hospital in Oahu, Hawaii.
“I was overseas for more than two years,” he said. “We took jungle training and jungle living and amphibious training. We took soldiers out to the airstrip day and night 20 at a time.”
Reimer was in the service from 1942 to 1945 before returning home to take on a role as a wholesale drug salesman.
“I think I was making $22 when I went into the Army,” he said. “When I started with the drug company, they were paying me $75 a week and $15 for car expenses.”
After more than 30 years with Mooney’s, the company was sold and moved out of state, meaning that Reimer was out of a job. In his retirement, he proctored testing at the Statehouse and volunteered to deliver goods and groceries for St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP).
SVdP is an international organization of members joined together with the spiritual purpose of offering assistance with empathy. Reimer spent time visiting families, meeting needs and offering assistance.
After so many years of touching so many lives, Reimer’s 100th birthday party was understandably packed with well-wishers and avid fans of John Reimer.
“The birthday party was pretty special,” Perry said.
5 Questions with John Reimer
What is your most vivid memory from childhood?
Seeing President Roosevelt riding down Meridian Street in a big black open car.
What lessons did you learn during the war that came home with you?
I learned that I needed glasses. I still have the same frames that I came home with all those years ago.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?
The fact that I survived this long. I thought I was done for about 30 years ago.
What is your favorite book, song or poem?
“Tura Lura Lura”
What is the secret to a long life?
I really don’t know how I made it this far.