Good genes and good luck. If there’s a secret to living a long, happy life, says Washougal resident Ken Shold, those two things are definitely involved.
“You have to have good genes, but you also have to be lucky — especially if you had to go through combat. You have to be lucky to get through that,” Shold, a World War II veteran who will celebrate his 100th birthday later this month, on Monday, Jan. 23, said.
And if you don’t have good genes or good luck?
“Keep out of trouble,” Shold said. “And for young people: remember that when you graduate from high school and think you’re through learning that you really are just getting started.”
Born in 1923, to a Norwegian mother and Swedish father, Shold grew up with his four siblings — three brothers and a sister — in Port Townsend, in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
Though his childhood was shaped by the Great Depression, Shold said those formative years were happy.
“It was a good childhood. I had a good family,” Shold said.
His parents owned a grocery store and gas station when he was young, and Shold remembers special treats despite the tough economic times, including the red wagon Santa Claus brought him for Christmas when he was 5 years old.
“Our drink was water, but we had Kool-Aid once in a while,” Shold recalled, “but only once in a while because sugar was so expensive.”
After graduating from high school, Shold attended the University of Washington (UW) and joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). In 1942, during his second year at UW, Shold’s ROTC unit was called for active duty. He went to basic training in 1942, and, more than six months later, began his officer training. He went into World War II as a second lieutenant in the United States Army, and was deployed to Europe with the Army’s 304th Infantry Regiment. He would go on to receive a bronze star for his participation in three battles during the war, including the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, described by the National World War II Museum as “the U.S. Army’s greatest struggle to deny Adolf Hitler’s last chance for victory.”
In a 2018, Camas-Washougal Post-Record article honoring the local veteran ahead of Veteran’s Day, Shold said he was a “tender 21-year-old kid” who didn’t know how to react to the death and destruction of war.
“Anytime anybody wanted to surrender, you had to talk them back close to the combat area, and Germans were shooting at you,” Shold told The Post-Record in 2018. “There were a lot of times like that, but I escaped everything. … I always told my buddies, ‘When you go into combat, keep your head down and don’t try to be a hero.'”
After the war, Shold decided to return to his home state, where he would earn his science degree with a major in chemistry from UW, marry his first wife, Marge, take a job with the Crown Zellerbach pulp and paper mill in Port Townsend and father three children.
In 1960, Shold transferred to Southwest Washington to work as a superintendent at Crown Zellerbach’s pulp mill in Camas. He married his second wife, Ruthie, and the couple moved their blended family — which included Shold’s three children, Ruthie’s four children and one child Ken and Ruthie had together — to Washougal in 1962.
“The mill was running at full speed then,” Shold recalled of his early days as a kraft mill assistant superintendent. “They had all the machines going.”
“He used to tell us that every time we smelled (the Camas pulp mill), we were smelling bread and butter,” Shold’s daughter, Gayle Ann Jarvie said, laughing.
During his 33 years as a pulp and paper mill superintendent in Camas, Shold served as the chairman of the Pacific Coast Pulp Mill Superintendents and had a chance to travel throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. In 1965, his work took him to Chile to help with a mill expansion project.
“I left on July Fourth and was back at Thanksgiving,” Shold recalled. “It was like the ‘old country’ back then. They still had horse-drawn wagons delivering groceries. There were no grocery stores like you’d see here. … But we had a truck we could borrow to go out of town to a restaurant.”
Shold enjoyed his travels to Canada, the East Coast, California, New England, and other parts of the U.S. — “I went across the country about 100 times and was on an airplane every other week,” he said. –And he and his wife, Ruthie, traveled extensively after Shold retired at the age of 70, in 1993, but most of Shold’s favorite memories revolve around his home life.
“Home time with the kids kept me busy,” Shold said. “One of the boys had a wrecked car, and we’d go to the junkyard for parts. They liked to go fishing up the river, and I’m a good fisherman – and a pretty good cook. I have a reputation for that!”
In the summertime, the Sholds would travel to Ruthie’s parents’ home near Ellensburg, Washington, and would camp in an old Army-type tent, Jarvie remembered.
“It was this green, heavy-duty canvas tent … and there were seven of us, so some would sleep in the tent and some would sleep inside in the bedrooms,” Jarvie said.
Shold’s other fond memories include a family trip to Disneyland in 1975; traveling with Ruthie to Reno and Las Vegas; and driving from Washington to Haines, Alaska.
In 1990, the Sholds built a home near downtown Washougal, to help Ruthie, who was confined to a wheelchair following a brain aneurysm she’d suffered in 1978, be closer to the city’s amenities.
Ruthie, who died in 2001, was known for her love of Christmas – and the Sholds’ home once won a first-place prize for its Christmas decorations.
“Mom and dad both loved Christmas,” Jarvie said. After Ruthie died, neighbors told Shold and his children they missed hearing the Christmas music coming from the home’s windows during the winter holiday season.
Though his eyesight is not what it used to be, Shold said he still enjoys settling in for Jeopardy or to catch a Seahawks’ or Mariners’ game. Shold also said he still enjoys visiting some of the local haunts in Washougal, including the Washougal Times and the Big Foot Inn, but wishes the city’s downtown was more lively.
“I would like to see more of a general purpose park, where people could go for parties or to gather outdoors.” Shold said. “And, it would be nice if Washougal came back to life downtown.”
Shold’s family — which includes not only seven children but also 19 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren — is inviting community members who would like to honor Shold’s 100th birthday to a party from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Bethel Community Church, at 1438 “B” St., in Washougal.