John Schlosser has managed to fill his almost 99 years with a variety of careers and experiences.
From his childhood days on a Montana ranch, to a stint in Florida building warships, to the construction of buildings in Washington, D.C., Schlosser got a first-hand look at history.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Schlosser said.
“He said he wishes everybody could live to be 98 and be as happy in all phases of life,” said Margaret Schlosser, John’s second wife, to whom he’s been married for 35 years.
John Schlosser, who will turn 99 on April 22, was born and raised in Knowlton, Mont., a small community in Custer County in the southeastern part of the state. There was a post office, a two-room schoolhouse, a small store and gas station in a half-mile section.
Schlosser was born in 1913, the youngest of three sons of Harry and Mildred Schlosser. He grew up on a ranch four miles from his maternal grandmother’s home in Miles City.
He still has memorabilia from his childhood that his mother saved for him, including a set of spurs, a suede cowboy hat, rope he used for lassoing and a framed piece showing the family’s plot of land, among other items.
“He was the son that loved to get up early and work on the ranch with his father,” Margaret Schlosser said.
“I was the youngest, so I was the wrangler,” John Schlosser said.
Growing up on a ranch, he was a natural on horseback.
“I had to do an awful lot of riding to round up stock, and for roundups fall and spring,” Schlosser said.
When he was 7, his father put extensions on handles and pedals of farm equipment so John could help.
He also made a “ladder” of leather straps that John used to get up on his horse.
“I could do man’s work,” Schlosser said.
To heat the house, the family used coal from a mine on their property. They cut up and split wood for the cook stove. When the pond froze over in the winter, they cut it into blocks and stored it in the ice house for cooling in the summer, Schlosser said.
His father had a variety of shops on the self-sustaining ranch for all kinds of work. There was also a two-room bunkhouse that was used for housing the men who were hired to help with haying, harvest and roundup.
John’s mother, who was a school teacher, fixed up a room in their home with school desks and blackboards so she could teach her children at home for several years. When she returned to teaching in 1922 or 1923, when John was 9 or 10, he would stay with his mother in the “teachery” — the room built onto the schoolhouse for the teacher’s quarters.
“His mother was someone who could never get enough of education. She was taking correspondence courses until age 97,” Margaret Schlosser said.
After Mildred Schlosser retired from teaching, she worked in nearby Miles City as a librarian.
“She must have been a very interesting lady. In her last diary entry, she wrote that she was baking three cakes in the morning and going out to pick tea roses,” Margaret said.
John attended high school in Miles City, living with his grandparents during those years. He graduated in 1932.
The Great Depression hit ranchers hard, so Schlosser had to seek work elsewhere after he finished high school.
In 1928, ranchers could sell ordinary cattle for $125 a head, but a year later, a cow sold for $7 to $8 and cost a minimum of $20 to keep over the winter, he said.
Following the jobs
John’s middle brother went to St. Louis, Mo., to become a pilot. But due to an eye problem, he wasn’t able to realize that dream.
Instead, he went to Baltimore to build airplanes. When things got bad financially on the ranch, John’s brother told him to come East. He arrived in 1933, just as the country was starting to turn around economically.
Schlosser worked in Baltimore and York, Pa., as a stock clerk, unable to enlist in the military because of an injury to his left arm that he sustained on the ranch.
Then it was on to Tampa, Fla., where Schlosser helped build 24 concrete warships, a task undertaken because there was a steel shortage. He also helped build 16 smaller steel ships.
“That was very good, very interesting. I loved that,” Schlosser said.
Then, with plenty of construction work in Washington, D.C., Schlosser headed there.
The Pentagon, a hangar and a parachute-drying tower at Andrews Air Force Base, the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, the wind tunnel at Carderock and the Rayburn House Office Building are among the projects on which he worked.
He worked in D.C. until his retirement in 1978.
John and Margaret met while working for the same general contractor. Both had lost their spouses.
Margaret, who is 14 years younger than John, grew up in Hagerstown and moved to Silver Spring, Md., with her first husband to be closer to his work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
When she and John married in 1976, she wanted to return to Hagerstown. They purchased a home on Woodland Way, but moved to the Greenwich Park development about 10 years ago, when the yard work and maintenance on the other home became too much for them.
Both John and Margaret enjoyed the water.
While in his 50s, John took up water skiing. He helped build three ski jumps and plan a slalom course for weekend tournaments with the ski club he joined.
Margaret has one son and daughter-in-law who live in Shepherdstown, W.Va., two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. John and his wife did not have children.
“My family became his family,” Margaret said.
In retirement, John helped friends and neighbors with home-improvement projects and was active in the couple’s church, First Christian. Until two years ago, he helped neighbors with shoveling or simple house projects.
He belonged to the Masons for 60 years and more recently, was involved with Hagerstown Elks Lodge No. 378.
The couple started taking ballroom dancing classes at Hagerstown Junior College in 1981 and danced about 30 years with the same group. They still get together socially with other couples they have danced with.
“John was a very, very good dancer,” Margaret said.
He recently finished reading the book “Endurance,” about a South Pole wooden boat expedition — on the Kindle he received for Christmas.