Last year brought well-deserved recognition to Walter Sommers, who celebrated his 96th birthday Dec. 27 with wife Louise during a party hosted by children Nancy and Ron at Westminster Village in Terre Haute.
On August 8, Consul General Herbert Quelle presented Walter with the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to honor Walter for his ongoing work in Holocaust education.
The ceremony took place before a full house at CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, where Walter still serves twice a week as a docent.
Walter’s well-attended birthday party featured his favorite carrot cake. Walter solemnly surveyed his slice and said, “We’re not going to eat much dinner tonight!”
Walter and Louise and family are anticipating another momentous event this year — a party to commemorate their 70th wedding anniversary on March 30, 1947.
Here, Walter shares his thoughts on longevity, history and the nation’s future.
Walter offers his recommendations on staying busy
“My recommendation is, if you want to reach age 96, keep busy. Keep involved. And if you can’t have a paying job, do volunteer work. That’s the important thing — [to] stay busy. And not to worry about yourself.”
Walter lectures German tourists on Holocaust history
“They walked in and said, ‘OK, give us hell. We’re Germans.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to give you hell. I’m trying to explain to you how all these things happened in the first place.'”
Walter shares his thoughts on the incoming American president
“I’ve never worried about any kind of a change in government or a new president coming in. But I’m very much concerned about this new administration. I don’t mind for an administration to talk about changes. But the type of people that [President-Elect Trump] appointed —- he appointed several generals. Generals really are happiest when there’s a war going on.”
Walter tells a story about angora sweaters
“I was new in the retail business. I had just moved to Terre Haute. I started a new department at the Meis Store right after Labor Day 1948. It was the ladies sportswear department. This young lady (eight-year-old Mary Farmer) walked in with her twin sister and her mother.
“We were selling sweaters. The girls fell in love with white angora sweaters. They’re very fluffy. Oh, they loved them. And they wore them to church on Sunday. And of course, it rubbed up against their late father’s navy blue suit. And so he was very unhappy to have white hair all over his suit!”
Walter refunded the sale to the girls’ mother and held on to a happy customer. More than 65 years later, he met that young lady again, when Mary Farmer Conrad became a Westminster Village resident.
At the time, though, Mary Farmer helped teach Walter a lesson about retail.
“I never sold any more angora sweaters after that. I sold a lot of sweaters —- but not angora sweaters. They shed like the devil!”