The Times photo by Betsy ReasonThe late Sam Arnett celebrates his 105th birthday a year ago today.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

The late Sam Arnett celebrates his 105th birthday a year ago today.
Sam Arnett would have turned 106 years old today.

He died on Dec. 22, just 65 days shy of his 106th birthday. I attended his 105th birthday a year ago today.

And what a party it was. I'm sure today would have been even bigger for the former resident of Wellbrooke of Westfield, where he had lived for nearly four years.

I take this opportunity to share his wonderful story.

"I'm very happy today, that's for sure," Arnett said to me on his 105th birthday, on Feb. 25, 2016, as he celebrated with family and friends at the assisted-living community near Grand Park, where his great-grandson has played soccer. "It's kind of hard to tell the difference between a smile and a sneer," he said with a grin.

He maneuvered around in a wheelchair. "I get around," he said, though admitting, "I don't drive a car anymore." He stopped driving just before turning 102, his family said, and he also had a smart phone until he moved to assisted living.

His family said the question that he got asked most often was "How did you live so long?" His daughter Anne Ripley, said, "Chocolate, coffee, cocktails, you name it. There was no rhyme or reason to his longevity."

Arnett grinned again and said, "I never planned it. I just take it day by day. I've enjoyed life very much. I've had a good backing by my family, my friends. And that accounts for a lot of pleasure, a lot of successes that you have in life."

His best memories? "I enjoyed life with my friends. That's probably No. 1," he said.

Born Feb. 25, 1911, Arnett thought back to his childhood and remembered World War I (1914-18). "I was about 6 or 7 years old. I remember the Army. Airplanes weren't common like they were today. When us kids would see an airplane, we would point to it and say, 'airplane, airplane,'" he said.

He also said, "I think the thing that I remember (most as a kid) would be the Boy Scouts."

As a kid, he also remembers playing sports. "When I was in grade school at (Indianapolis) PS (Public Schools, No.) 54, the city schools had a league that they participated against each other for a city championship. I remember that I was the pitcher of School 54, and we won every game," Arnett said.

"We didn't get the Crown City Championship because, when the season ended, we still had the championship play to contend with, and the weather got bad. We never did get to finish. We had one game left," he said. "We had about three weeks of bad weather in a row and it was impossible to play. After the third week, the kids and their families were getting ready to go on vacation; it was impossible to assemble a competitive team. So we just called it a tie." He was about 14 years old at the time.

Arnett grew up on a farm near Fortville and remembers having animals and stocking grain. While refrigerators for home use were invented in 1913, his family didn't have one for many years. "The ice man used to come around every day, and everybody had iceboxes, and they held about 50 pounds of ice, and the ice man kept the icebox filled, and that was your source of refrigeration."

His first car was a 1925 Ford Model T. He recalled the Great Depression (1929-39), when he was about 20. "It was pretty tough times on a lot of people," he said. And he saw the late American professional baseball great Babe Ruth. "Oh, yeah. I was in my late teens maybe....It was a funny situation. It was a World Series, and the New York Yankees were playing the Chicago Cubs, and the Cubs were no match for the Yankees. It was four straight victories for the Yankees. The third game, the Yankees were ahead 3-0, and that was when Ruth made the signal that he was going to hit a home run. I don't fully believe that. I don't believe he was actually motioning to the Yankees pitcher....He made a gesture, yes. But I don't know if that was in his mind or not," said Arnett, who was at the game.

After graduating high school, he went on to be an outfielder for the Butler Bulldogs college baseball team from 1928-32, and graduated in 1933 with a bachelor's degree in business from Butler, where he was a Phi Delta Theta. At Arnett's 105th birthday, he was recognized for being the oldest living Phi Delta, as his initiation card and old photos in front of the Butler fraternity house, which was being built in 1929, were shown around by Butler Phi Delta alum Stan Cuppy of Indianapolis.

When Arnett was trying to figure out how to make a living, he decided to visit Purdue University School of Pharmacy, where he ended up earning a master's degree in pharmacy, attending on a scholarship, and following in the footsteps of his father, who was also a pharmacist.

Arnett was a chemist at Eli Lilly Co. for 34 years. He made penicillin for soldiers during World War II. "Penicillin was considered necessary to support the war," he recalled. He met his wife, Rosie, at Eli Lilly, and they were married for more than 30 years.

Other highlights of his life include raising kids, being a coach and starting Little League baseball on Indianapolis' eastside, being active in church and being a grandfather and great-grandfather, enjoying big band music with his wife, being an avid fisherman and moving to Florida, where he owned a boat.

"I had a lot of fun along the way," said Arnett, who attended Butler basketball games and lived alone until he was 101.

The day before his birthday in 2016, Arnett was able to share a prime rib lunch with now former Butler head baseball coach Steve Farley. Farley brought Arnett a Butler baseball jersey, signed ball and shared an old scorebook that Coach Tony Hinkle used from 1938. Although the book was after Arnett's time there, he was still able to recall players from that year.

They laughed how Coach Hinkle would nickname all of the players, based on where they were from, because he couldn't always recall their given names. They also joked how Arnett tried to illegally play baseball for Purdue University when he was a grad student there. Purdue recruited him until finding out he had already graduated from Butler. Arnett laughed. He said, "I saw the team practice, and thought I oughta go out and shag a few flies."

Arnett's granddaughter, Libby Spruill, 43, Fishers, said on his 105th birthday in 2016, "I think my grandpa is so witty and with it to be 105. I am just in awe and just so happy that he is able to be able to carry on conversations and be able to live in the moment and communicate with us and get happy when we tell him stories about the grandkids. His mind is still so spry. He is just with it. He is such a patriarch of our family, and I look up to him so much, and I feel so blessed to have him in our lives, and that my kids get to know their great-grandpa and all of his accomplishments in life...Not that many people have the opportunity."

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