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101 years, and still going strong in Thurmont

Jeremy Hauck

(8/14) Few people make it to the age where they can claim to have great-great-grandchildren. George Ardler of Thurmont is one of them. His 101st birthday is Saturday.

This week Ardler sat with friends at a Thurmont Senior Center table. In the middle of the table stood two vases of flowers that Rosemary Hankla said she picked for Ardler.

Hankla just started coming to the center for lunches and activities this year, which makes her a newbie compared to the others. Ardler has been coming to the senior center for about 20 years. As the most senior of senior citizens at the center – the nearest in age is a 92-year-old woman, according to director Anna Rollins – Ardler inspires other visitors to take care of themselves, and has charmed just about everyone he's met.

"I met him when I first came here, and I've loved him ever since," Betty Green said.

Thurmont commissioners on Monday proclaimed Saturday as "George Ardler Day" in Thurmont. In a prepared statement, Mayor Martin A. Burns called Ardler "inspiring" and "unique to Thurmont."

Ardler grew up as the second-youngest of 11 children born to a grocer in Bremen, Germany, according to his daughter, Georgette Baxter, 68, of Thurmont. Baxter and her husband, John, take care of Ardler in their home, which is a quick drive from the senior center on Thurmont's east end. Ardler's wife, Maria, died in 1990.

"He's very easy to live with," Baxter said, adding that he likes spending time on the back porch, keeping watch over the family dog, visiting hummingbirds and a fish pond.

At the age of 16, Ardler followed German custom and looked for work. He became a cabin boy and sailed the world's oceans for two years before landing on New York's Ellis Island. There, he remained under quarantine for three weeks before becoming a U.S. citizen in 1927.

Like most of the things Ardler, who has lost most of his hearing, talks about, his days aboard ship happened "many years back," he said.

Ardler found work as the caretaker of a Long Island estate owned by an antiques importer and his actress wife. Ardler met his future wife, Maria, also a German immigrant, through her sister, who worked in the city.

The couple raised two daughters – Baxter's older sister died in 1995 – on the estate, where Ardler worked with the estate's flora. Long Island in the period between the wars was more rural than Thurmont of today, Baxter said.

"It was very nice back then," Baxter said.

The Ardlers made four trips to Germany – of his 10 brothers and sisters, just one remained to run the family store – starting in the 1950s, Baxter said. While Maria Ardler wanted to travel by boat, George Ardler would have none of it.

"After his internship, he wasn't going to go on a boat," she said, laughing. Baxter, a teenager at the time, swapped her airline ticket for her father's boat ticket to keep her mother company. Along the way, a hurricane kicked up some choppy sailing conditions, and the Ardlers relied exclusively on air travel for future trips.

When she was 26 and married, Baxter relocated to Maryland. Ardler and his wife soon followed to raise Black Angus cattle on a 30-acre farm in New Midway, and they spent their winters in Florida with Maria Ardler's family. The family now raises horses on the farm.

At the senior center, where Ardler first started coming with his wife in the late 1980s, Ardler is known for his serene presence, his healthy diet and his easy smile, according to Rollins, who called him "always pleasant and upbeat."

"He's a good role model," Rollins said Tuesday. "He's got a lot of friends."

Rollins and Baxter added that Ardler just in the last several years has given up coffee in favor of chocolate drinks.

"We think it's the cocoa that's keeping him going," Rollins joked.

The senior center gave him a basket with 99 candy bars for his 99th birthday. This year, Rollins has asked the 100-plus senior citizens– some of whom are two generations younger than Ardler – who use the center to do a good deed for someone and write it down anonymously on a picture of a Dalmatian. The center will put together a scrapbook of the 101 Dalmations for Ardler's birthday, Rollins said.

On Tuesday, most of them hung on the south wall of the open-floor-plan building. One reads, "Wie gehts, George!!!! I said prayers for all my friends and cats – Froliche Geburtsday!!!"

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