John Henry Newman, born in the Lenore community 100 years ago, has recently celebrated his birthday at Westman Nursing Home in Virden.
Nephews from Western Canada, Ken, Bill and Ron Newman and niece Anne Bandit from Sherwood Park, Alta. came to be with their uncle for this special birthday.
Newman had been a member of the Winnipeg Rifles, and travelled to the east coast, but was never deployed overseas.
Virden's Mayor Murray Wright, Royal Canadian Legion Sgt. At Arms Kelvon Smith, Padre Matt Koovisk and Legion President Shae Apland also visited with Newman earlier in the day.
About a dozen friends and family helped him enjoy carrot cake decorated with a likeness of the airplane that he flew for so many years.
In an interview, Newman’s good friend, Ken Wardle, recounted some of the centenarian’s colourful history.
After the Second World War was over, Newman returned to the Virden area from his posting with the Winnipeg Rifles. It was then that his brother, Roy, taught him to fly. He enjoyed piloting his Piper J-3 Cub, up until 1972 and to this day, he is well known for his love of flying, hunting and fishing.
He was also a bricklayer and did work on the Virden legion building, the Auditorium Theatre and homes in the area as well.
Wardle recalls the day, not so long ago, he and his cousin Lloyd Williams offered Newman a plane ride, which he accepted.
“We flew over Oak Lake and Cromer,” says Wardle. “You could not get that man lost! He knew every creek - he was already 98. He could tell you which house he fixed the chimney on. It was unbelievable,” says Wardle.
From his plane, Newman and his friends hunted coyotes for their pelts or for a bounty. A daring flier, he was known to return with cattails caught on the plane’s undercarriage.
In those days, Newman also ran a trap line where the Pipestone creek enters into Oak Lake. He received $51 per pelt for mink.
Wardle recounts a heartwarming incident told to him, from his friend’s 1970s fishing and hunting days, when some youngsters got an unexpected thrill. Newman had flown to the Clear Lake area to hunt moose. He had his lunch with him and had landed the small craft in a farmer’s field, about lunch time.
Along came a father and two sons with a team of horses pulling a stone boat. They visited with the pilot. Newman was invited into the house for lunch. After lunch, he took the two children up for a plane ride.
Good deed sparks friendship
Ken and Jean Wardle, originally from Virden, were B.C. residents for a number of years, so Ken didn’t know Newman personally until after they moved back to Virden in 2007, when an unusual meeting opened the door for friendship.
On their way home from church one Sunday the Wardles passed by a parked car that appeared to be steaming or smoking. They drew closer and saw it was a dangerous situation. There was a fire brooding under the hood of the car.
Ken and Jean helped the driver (John Newman) to get out of the car and called 911. “That was the first time I ever met the man,” says Wardle. The two men became fast friends.
Newman’s wife, Dorothy, passed away in 2013. The couple were childless, so Wardle helped Newman in many ways including with his moves - first to the Sherwood Personal Care Home and most recently to the Westman Nursing Home.
There have been difficult decisions to make in helping his friend journey toward his 101st year of life. But his friendship with the flying hunter has also brought great enjoyment.
“It’s almost like these things are meant to be,” says Wardle.
Just a couple of weeks prior to his 100th birthday, John Newman fell and broke his arm. He’s now wearing a cast with the signatures of family.