Philip Pinewski worked his way into his 90th year June 5.
Pinewski loves to work. In fact, when asked his secret to a long life, he said, “You’ve got to have a positive attitude and enjoy what you do. So many things I enjoy doing. Probably work I enjoy most.”
And with a name that means “strong in spirit” Philip Pinewski seems born to work.
Pinewski’s been retired since 1987, but he still keeps a workshop out back and spends many hours out there repairing appliances and doing woodwork.
“I just like to do what I can to help people out,” said the nonagenarian.
And he’s been helping people out all his life.
Pinewski was born in northern Minnesota – “So far out in the sticks even the bears had to have a road map to find the place,” he said – and learned a tough work ethic from his farming parents.
The youngest of 10 children, Pinewski worked the farm with his dad and brothers while his mom raised turkeys.
It was a hard life with hard work, but the boy loved it.
In 1937, when he was 13, Pinewski and his family moved to Anoka and farmed on 50 acres located just across the road from the Anoka County Fairgrounds. In the years since, Pinewski grew up, graduated high school, got married, raised his children, and still lives in that house today.
The only one of his family able to go to high school, Pinewski graduated with the Anoka High School Class of 1942, attending school in the building now known as Sandburg Education Center.
“But I only went to school four days a week. I stayed out of school one day a week to make a couple of bucks,” said Pinewski, who loved to work even at that age and wanted to help his parents pay the bills.
As a teenage boy, Pinewski spent that one day each week mowing yards (earning 50 cents each yard) and delivering eggs in Minneapolis.
“I was too young to drive, but I could carry six dozen eggs in a wooden basket from house to house, so that was my job,” he said.
Of course, he’d have to keep up on his school work, too, and so he did.
“I’d make up that one day by kerosene lamp,” he said, remembering his high school years working long days and still working to earn his high school diploma.
To folks in and around Anoka, Pinewski might be best known for his years at Thurston Furniture in Anoka, where he worked 10 years before buying the place and running it for 27 more until his retirement in 1987.
Prior to that, in the late-1940s Pinewski owned a service station in northeast Minneapolis, called Phil’s DX.
“We did everything in those days. For $1 we’d check the radiator, the oil, the tires. And we sold gas for 16 or 18 cents a gallon,” Pinewski said, chuckling at the recollection of those simpler days.
His years selling gas and servicing vehicles came on the heels of his service with the U.S. Navy during World War II.
“The draft board wanted me to stay home, but I wanted to serve, so I enlisted. They asked, ‘Can you run? Can you jump? Can you dig a hole?’ Well, I could so I was in,” Pinewski said.
Enlisting just out of high school and in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Pinewski was sent to Pearl Harbor after basic training and assigned to the USS Battleship Tennessee.
“Most of my buddies were on the battleship Tennessee, but I missed it because I was in sick bay. I guess I was supposed to be in sick bay because that ship was sent to Iwo Jima and we lost 28,000 men in five weeks.”
Because his life was spared, he said, he was able to finish his service, come home and meet “my girl.”
“After the Navy, two or three of us would go to Lake Sarah for Sunday night dancing. Well, one Sunday night I saw this pretty girl across the room. I finally worked up the nerve to walk across the floor and ask her to dance,” he said.
Well, that “pretty girl” was named Marge and Marge said, “Yes,” so they danced a bit and the rest is history.
Phil and Marge got married not long after that first dance, had 13 children together and will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on Sept. 3, 2014.
“I told her I wanted someone who would give me a dozen children. Well, she gave me a baker’s dozen,” Pinewski said, smiling at his bride seated with him in the living room of the family home.
Each of the Pinewskis’ 13 children (Linda, Diane, Mary, Dan, Steve, Margaret, Karen, Janet, John, Paul, Carol, Peter, and Lori) graduated from Anoka High School between 1968 and 1986.
Today, Philip and Marge are grandparents to 50 and great-grandparents to 23, with four more on the way.
“I tell you they’ve all been good to me – every one of them,” Pinewski said of his large family.
Work and faith have served as long and winding threads throughout Pinewski’s 90 years of life.
In addition to his work earning a paycheck, Pinewski has dedicated many hours, days, and years to volunteer work, serving on the St. Stephen’s school board and helping out at the church, starting a Boy Scout pack and leading it for many years, volunteering with the Kiwanis group and the Knights of Columbus, as well as being a member of the Anoka American Legion and the Coon Rapids VFW.
In honor of his many years working and volunteering in Anoka, Pinewski was named Grand Marshal of the 1989 Anoka Halloween Grand Day Parade.
“That’s the best part of my life, working and helping people,” Pinewski said.
Pinewski’s long life is a tapestry woven with work of one sort or another, a tapestry the 90-year-old wears well, even as he enters his tenth decade of life.
“You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, get out of it. I’ve enjoyed everything and the good Lord kept me out of harm’s way,” he said, smiling at the many happy years he’s lived and looking forward to the years ahead.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]