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Islander celebrates 95th with far-flung family

By Staff | Mar 3, 2011

Almost the whole family from California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Illinois joined the birthday celebs at St. Michael’s on Saturday. Seated... the birthday brothers, Bob Ringel (88 - of Palos Verdes Estates Cal.) and Chuck Ringel (95 - of Sanibel). Behind them, left to right, are Gary Vance, Judith Vance, Cheryl Ringel, Cynthia Ringel, Kay Ringel Riegler, Stan Schoen, Margaret Ringel Schoen, Judy Lotter, Brian Ringel, Patti Ringel (partiallly hidden), Paul Ringel, Dave Ringel, Bill Lotter and John Ringel.

Chuck Ringel has been eating at the Lighthouse Café on Sanibel more years than he can remember. And last week he celebrated his 95th birthday with numerous memberss of his family at that very spot. People — pretty much all from two generations of Ringels — came from California (Chuck’s kid brother, a former aeronautical engineer, who’s turning 88 Saturday, from Palos Verde Estates), Arizona (his “baby” sister, Mary Johnson, a fabulous sketch artist and professional dog-handler who, until recently, went dancing with her husband, Andy, three or four nights a week, from the Phoenix area), Oklahoma, Tennesssee, Illinois, and Pennsylvania (daughter, Margaret Schoen, who’s coming with her son Charles from Pittsburgh) for the event. The party went on for more than just breakfast, however — Saturday there was a continuation that expanded to include the younger brother’s, Bob’s celebration at St. Michael & All Angels church hall from noon till…

“My dad is legally blind, “ his daughter Kathryn Riegler said, “but he can find his way here at least three times a week. He lives about three blocks from here (he and his wife built on Lighthouse Way after vacationing on the island for years) and he walks… sometimes for lunch, more often for breakfast, sometimes for both. He just loves the whole staff.” And they love him: Mike Bilheimer, the owner, let the breakfast party go on uninterrupted until breakfast was finiished, then announced the celebration and got everyone in the restaurant to sing “Happy Birthday” to this favorite guest.

Ringel is definitely still elegant, well-spoken, and according to his daughter, “full of humor, particularly puns and completely unexpected one-liners.” A perfect example is his out-of-the-blue reponse to ‘What’s the toughest part of getting old?’… “That first day!”

How does he feel about approaching his centenary? “It’s something kind of surprising. I’ve been active all my life — starting sailing at age 11, and only sold my boat about 10 years ago. I don’t get mad at anyone, and I keep busy. I find I get tireder than I used to, and I’m not as active as I’d like, but I try to keep busy.”

Ringel moved to Sanibel after he sold his graphic engineering business, Illinois Valley Lithograph, a provider of large equipment for the printing industry. On Sanibel he and his wife were members of the, at that time, tiny Power Squadron. “Dad did so much for that group; it’s huge compared to what it was then,” Kay said. He’s been a member of the 400-member Illinois Valley Yacht Club since 1936 — the group’s oldest member — and

active in Ham radio until just recently when his macular degeneration began fuzzing up the dials and numbers. He lives by himself and maintains his own home.

He’s a graduate of Bradley University and started dating his late wife, Harriet, a well-respected architect, there. When he graduated he set up a photo studio, and he and Harriet married in 1940 in Peoria, Ill. According to Chuck, “I moved to Florida to get out of the cold… I believe I’ll stay!” He does go up north to visit Kay, Margaret and other members of his family in the summer, but it’s back to Sanibel at the first hint of c-o-l-d!