While many of us were flying flags, enjoying fireworks and family barbeques, Clermont Park resident Nick Westendorf celebrated Independence Day eating Rainier cherries and See’s chocolates, and recounting stories to family members about his World War II experience.
In particular, he reminisced about zig-zagging across the Pacific in an ancient troop transport ship with no armed escort. Fortunately, the ship wasn’t attacked and made its way to the Philippines.
Westendorf, who in June celebrated his 105th birthday with a gathering of friends and family at Clermont Park, has the distinction of being the state’s oldest World War II veteran.
Although this year’s birthday wasn’t as much of a to-do as last year when the occasion was featured on local television, the former U.S. Navy mechanic still seemed to enjoy every minute of it, sharing with guests “this is a guy who started out behind two mules.”
Westendorf grew up on a farm in rural Illinois. He moved to Clermont Park 16 years ago, about a five-minute drive from his daughter’s home.
“As soon as he came here, he said it felt like home,” shared his daughter, Sandy Righter.
Upon moving in, he joined the grounds committee, and was the unofficial greeter welcoming new residents. Every week he’d also go read to students at nearby Denver Academy, where Righter had been a teacher for 33 years. He was also a regular at chapel services.
Nearly four years ago, a series of health events forced him to move into the Suites at Clermont Park, and he was put on hospice care, but miraculously recovered.
“I’m convinced he wouldn’t have lived this long if it weren’t for the excellent care at Clermont Park,” says Righter. “He has such a wonderful team of caregivers that have been with him so long. They know him, and I think that consistent care makes a really big difference.”
With his hearing and eyesight impaired, he doesn’t attend as many community events, but still enjoys music programs and being wheeled around the community so he can greet others. Nearly every day there are volunteers who come by and read the Bible to him, including chaplain Juli on Mondays.
“He has so many people praying for him and expressing their love, and that’s why he is still here,” Righter says.