Ilene and Frank Schietaert, Helen Finkbeiner, and Marti Newsted will host a party for longtime neighbor and World War II vet Don Stringer.
About two years ago, Ilene Schietaert of Independence Township made a promise to her next door neighbor Don Stringer just before he moved to Florida.
“I told him when he turned 100, I would throw him a party. His eyes lit up,” Schietaert said. “So here we are two years later, and the chief honoree is turning 100.”
“I’ve never met anyone over 100,” said Frank Schietaert, Ilene’s husband.
Friends and family are invited to Ilene and Frank’s home for a party. They’ll play big band music, Don’s favorite, and will have a scrapbook on hand filled with pictures and mementos, and smoked pork to eat.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Stringer’s sister, Helen Finkbeiner, of Waterford. “We talked about it a lot.”
“He’s a kind, gentle soul,” said neighbor Marti Newsted.
They hope to have letters of acknowledgment from Gov. Rick Snyder and state Rep. Jim Tedder, and a letter from President Barack Obama is also in the works.
“It takes six-to-eight weeks,” Frank said.
They have decades of memories to share of Don and his late wife, Elnora.
“They were a cute couple, out on the lake in their paddle boat,” Frank said.
“She’d be out there with her big old bonnet,” said Ilene, who also remembers one time when there was 10 inches of snow and Frank was away on business.
“Our buddy next door was out there driving his Kubota (lawn tractor), all bundled up. You could only see his eyes,” she said. “He would clear our driveway. That’s the kind of neighbor he was, so considerate.”
Don built a red shed designed to look like a covered bridge, decorated with a wood square-dancer silhouette.
“They enjoyed square dancing, and he loved covered bridges,” Ilene said. “He loved to play the organ. We had a cat he would sit on his windowsill and listen to him play the organ.”
“I miss talking to him at the fence when cutting our lawns,” Frank said. “Don worked hard to maintain his home and lawn. He never let it go.”
“That was one solid house,” Ilene said
Don was born in West Branch and grew up in Pontiac. In World War II, he served in England with the U.S. Army medic corps, working with the wounded.
He didn’t like chicken because of his experience with the military, Finkbeiner said.
“In the army, he was served chicken with the feathers left in,” she said.
After the war, he worked at Fisher Body, Pontiac Motor, and had a body shop. At home, he put his skills to work repairing cars, lawn aerators, tractors, and other things around the house.
“He could fix anything,” Frank said. “He could always figure out a way to make things work.”
“He was so good at building things,” Ilene said.
He carved wood scraps into intricately detailed buildings for a village in his basement, with train, water tower, and saloon.
“He was always very generous, very friendly,” Ilene said. “What’s not to like?”
The last year he was here, there was some work on the road, Frank said.
“He came down to help sweep the road,” he said. “He came walking down, and we were like, ‘Here comes Don.'”
“He was always in the middle of the mix,” Ilene said
“He’d be doing that right now if he could,” Finkbeiner said.
“He has the best attitude, never crabby, always happy,” Ilene said. “He’s interested in what everybody is doing.”
Don and Elnora raised two sons, and he has nine grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. His birthday is on June 16 and was also married on the 16th, so he would celebrate Fathers’ Day, his birthday, and their wedding anniversary all together, Finkbeiner said.
Call 248-623-8799 to share memories or for more information.