NEW HAVEN, W.Va. — He was born into what became known as “The Greatest Generation,” surviving The Great Depression and serving in World War II, and on May 4, Bill McFarland of New Haven will turn 100 years old.
The Town of New Haven has declared May 4 as “Bill McFarland Day.” As per his wishes, there will be no grand celebration. His only wish for the day — birthday cards.
A drive-by event will be held that day from 4 to 6 p.m. outside his home at 111 Fourth Street. There will be a container in which to leave the cards.
It only takes a look around the town to see the mark McFarland has left on it. He, along with Phil Batey, started the New Haven Fire Department. McFarland helped build the first fire station, which still stands across from the present town hall. And, he was also on the crew that built the now defunct Philip Sporn Power Plant.
Born to Ernie and Ora (Jones) McFarland, he was one of nine children, including five boys who all served in the military. In fact, McFarland, after having served four years in the U.S. Navy from January 1942 to November 1945, said he would go back tomorrow if he was needed and able.
A Gunner Mate, Second Class, McFarland served with the Armed Guard, which escorted supplies of fuel, aircraft, tanks, ammo, troops and other items to support the war effort. He claims to have seen more water in those years than others see in their entire life.
McFarland recalls the Depression years vividly, describing himself as a barefooted boy wearing patches on his overalls. He said during that time, he “lived to see Sunday” because that was the rare day when a chicken dinner was on the family table. He said commodities were distributed the first of each month, and had to last until the next month.
Living under those conditions was one of the reasons McFarland said he joined the military. He went to Charleston to enlist, and stated he knew as long as the ship stayed afloat, he would have three hot meals a day and a bed to sleep in.
McFarland worked at the West Virginia Ordnance Works (TNT plant) prior to serving in the Navy. Upon his returned from the service, he worked as a member of the Laborers International Union, serving under Local 543 of Huntington and Local 1353 in Charleston. Working through them from September 1947 and for the next 50 years, he received his “Gold Member” card in 1998. He has 74 continuous years of union membership.
McFarland is also a member of the National Rifle Association and was an avid hunter and fisherman. Mounted deer and fish line the walls of his home, and he can still tell you about the day he caught the two five-pound trout at Krodel Lake that now hang in his living room. His key to catching fish: Wash your hands in the lake or river water first. Even put a little mud on them before baiting your hook. It takes the human smell from them.
Another hobby of McFarland’s is gardening. Even at the age of 99, he already has stakes in the ground for his tomato plants, and three beds dug for planting squash. He said he gives most of the vegetables to his neighbors.
McFarland was married to the late Anna (Grinstead) McFarland for 55 years until her death in 1998. He has two sons, Charlie (wife Sandra) and Raymond (wife Becky), as well as four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He served as a Cub Scout leader of Pack 256 when his boys were young.
McFarland still lives in the house he built when he was 27 years old, and has a neighbor who serves as a caregiver. He said Linda Stewart is very good to him, cleaning, picking up groceries, giving him his insulin, and other helpful gestures.
The soon-to-be centenarian said he worries about the way the country is headed. McFarland said his life was spent helping others when and where he could. As a young teen, he helped his grandfather cut wood for winter heat because the elder lived on an $18 monthly pension. He helped people with butchering and making apple butter. Later in life, he cared for his wife through medical issues. Now, he said, young people just want to know “how much you gonna give me” when their help is needed.
When asked to what he credits for his longevity, McFarland points to a plaque of Jesus hanging on his wall, and replies, “That guy up there.”
For those wishing to mail McFarland a birthday card, his address is P.O. Box 455, New Haven, WV, 25265.
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Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at [email protected]