Get to know...Arthur “Bill” Cornell, 100 years old and still going strong
FAIRFIELD — There is an acrylic basket in Arthur “Bill” Cornell’s apartment at The Watermark that he shares with wife, Mary Jo.
The basket is stuffed with birthday cards, but Cornell admits he does not know who most of them are from. “They’re from friends of my grandkids,” he said.
It is understandable why everyone wanted to mark the occasion of his birthday on Sept. 4 — that was the day Cornell turned 100.
After a family celebration, with a family that includes three children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, over the long holiday weekend, the cards were still coming on Tuesday. Cornell was not sure how he would be able to thank everyone for the birthday wishes, but said his granddaughter said she is taking a picture of him with the cards to post on Facebook.
Yes, Cornell has a Facebook page.
Cornell, who was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Belevedere, N.J., flew B-24s at an Air Force base in Texas during World War II. It was there he met his future wife when they were set up on a blind date.
“After a couple of visits back and forth, we got married in Texas,” Cornell said. “She’s from Connecticut, and that’s the reason I ended up in Connecticut.”
The couple moved to Fairfield after a brief stay in Elmira, N.Y., in 1948, where he was the manager of Whipple’s Lumberyard. “But, we had to come to Connecticut,” Cornell said, adding that his wife said she missed the shore.
Their first stop in Fairfield was a house on James Street, where they lived for 10 years before buying a house on Lalley Boulevard. And there they stayed until Superstorm Sandy damaged the house.
“We fixed it up, and sold it,” Cornell said, and they moved into an apartment at the Watermark in neighboring Bridgeport. Not too long after they sold the Lalley Boulevard house, it was torn down and “they built a big castle there.”
Cornell said “everybody’s in a little bit of a shock” that he reached the century mark, but his wife quickly points out that “he takes good care of himself” and certainly doesn’t act like he is 100 years old. “Some days I feel like it,” Cornell said. “You’ve got to keep fighting.”
Indeed, while his genes may have something to do with it — his dad lived to be 93 and he has two cousins even older than him at 104 and 107 — Cornell still visits the gym on a daily basis to work out “a little bit.” He’s still driving and, in fact, still goes to work at Ring’s End in Darien, where he worked for 50 years buying lumber. Cornell leaves for Darien at 6:30 a.m., so he doesn’t get stuck in traffic, and regularly takes the car to run errands. Cornell said he usually goes in once a week to catch up with people and keep up store’s records on the wood market.
“I can tell you how many two-by-fours we sold in a certain year,” he said.
Unlike many centenarians, Cornell has embraced new computer technology — including social media — and seen how the times have changed, pointing to one childhood memory that has stuck with him.
“My dad was a big Mason, and we had a little store in Belevedere, and he would tutor people going into the Masons,” Cornell said. One of those future Masons told them to stop by his house on their way home, so they did and went out to a shack in the back yard. “He played around with this big machine and got a headset and put it on my dad,” Cornell said. “Dad’s eyes lit up, and then he put the headset on me, and I heard, ‘This is KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pa.’ That was the beginning of radio.”
And though he gets nostalgic, it’s not necessarily for the old days.
“I wish we could go back a few years, and start over again,” Cornell said. “Just a few years. We’re living in uncertain times, and I’m very worried about the world. I just hope things remain threats and don’t go beyond that.”