Olaf Tokheim dodged a number of bullets in his life including his landing on Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II in 1943 to reach his 100th birthday on Wednesday.
He is truly loved by the many that have come to know him as a mellow and deep-thinking individual who cares deeply about friendship and values his life’s memories and experiences.
Ole’ as he is fondly called by family and friends has made Manteca his home for many years with the love of his life in his late wife Loraine who passed away in the last two years. She was long known as the Welcome Wagon Lady calling on new residents moving into the Manteca area.
On a weekly basis he meets for coffee at about 9:30 a.m. with a group of guys – all veterans from World War II – at a doughnut shop at North Main and Alameda streets – to talk politics. Today a dinner is being held at Brookdale Senior Living on Union Road which he now calls home.
During the Battle of the Bulge conflict in France, Ole’ and about a dozen of his comrades took shelter in a Catholic monastery for three days as the children had gone home for Christmas vacation. They had quarters for them, he remembered, and treated them well.
“The kids were there when we arrived and the next day they were gone,” he said.
Ole’ was a native of Thor, Iowa – a town of 250 people – where he remembers his first-grade teacher well, Thelma Knutson. She was a farm girl who lived just a couple of miles from where his family lived, he said. Ole’s mother Annie grew up on a farm and his dad Andre worked as a real estate broker. His mother studied at St. Olaf’s College and his dad had come from Norway by ship.
He remembers when half of the downtown burned to the ground with the fire department being alerted by a bread truck driver in the predawn hours as he was driving into town. It was later learned that the blaze had started in the fire station. Ole’ was about 12 when the fire broke out and later helped with the clean up finding burned nickels and dimes in the street.
He said it was always the telephone operator in town who would alert the volunteer firefighters of an emergency, but the phone lines had burned in the early stages of the blaze.
Both of his parents died at 75. His seven uncles included five who moved to the U.S. and two that stayed in Norway. They lived lives of 50 to 95 years, he said, but no one reached his age of 100.
Of note was one uncle, John Tokheim invented a widely used gasoline gas pump.
For spending money at the age of 12 he would haul ashes from the local homes in Thor that had been dumped out in the alleys – using little wagons and earning 15 to 20 cents per trip.
“One good customer was the bank in town,” he said, “with them writing a check for hauling their ashes usually for just under a dollar, having us boys sign it on the back and then cash it in the next room. Then there was the minister across the road wanting his ashes hauled but we did his for free.”
Brookdale Senior Living is making a big deal out of his birthday with all kinds of memorabilia on display honoring him in the way they know best. On Friday night there will be a dinner at the VFW Hall on Moffat Boulevard celebrating with other vets and his son Joel a well-known physical therapist in Manteca.
On Saturday a family celebration is scheduled at the Tokheim home on Austin Road with a guest list of some 40 of his close relatives and friends including his daughter Susan Tokheim.
Most recently Ole’ rode in the Brookdale shuttle bus in the Christmas parade.
Back during the war when he landed on Omaha Beach, he drove an ambulance onto the shore amid floating bodies of his comrades, later spending duty time in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. He remembers finding a large truck trailer where he and some of his Army buddies thought they could sleep safely for the night. They heard a volley of gunfire in the predawn hours and when they got up found a string of bullet holes lined up just above their heads.
After leaving the service following the war, Ole’ worked for many years at the Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop. His hobbies included fishing in lakes and in the Delta along with wood working projects for family members and grandchildren like the dog house he made recently for Stacey and some stools he built in his son’s shop. More often than not he just visits his family and watches son Joel work on his own projects.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email email@example.com.