When I set out eleven mornings ago, I said my plan was to “head west and see who got in the way.” I never could’ve predicted this.

Yesterday I had the extraordinary honor of speaking with Mr. Walter Breuning. A little about Walter: he lives in the Rainbow Retirement Home in Great Falls, Montana. He worked for the railroad company for over fifty years, he said, the same amount of time my grandfather was a doctor. He dresses in a suit and tie every morning for breakfast. Oh, and one other thing about Walter: he was born on September 21, 1896, making him 112 years old. Next month he’ll be 113. He is literally the oldest man on Earth.

I met Walter at about 9:30 in the morning. He came walking—yes, walking—around the corner and plopped down in his favorite chair. I pulled up a piano bench beside him.

“My grandfather and I were very close,” I told him. “He was a Navy fighter pilot in World War Two. I’m wondering—do you remember your grandfather?”

“Remember him? Sure. My grandfather was in the war too…the Civil War!”

We both laughed, but I knew Walter wasn’t kidding. Later, in my motel room, I calculated that Walter had lived through twenty U.S. Presidents, from Grover Cleveland to Barack Obama.

“I’m twenty seven,” I said, “and just starting to make my way in the world. What do you think the biggest difference is between now and when you were twenty seven?”

“It’s the money,” he said. “Everyone’s got money these days, and no one wants to work.” He scoffed at the idea of a “recession”, saying he’d lived through a real Depression.

He told me about the various twists and turns in his life, and I was astonished by the sharpness of his mind. I could’ve been speaking to someone sixty years younger.

Before I left, I told Walter about my project, and I gave him a card. “If you could give just one piece of advice,” I said, “What would you say?”

“Tell them to keep their minds busy,” he said. “And their bodies. Work as long as you can work. And do something for somebody else every once in a while.”

He added one last thing: “Oh, and keep the weight off.”

Thanks so much to Tina and everyone at The Rainbow for your enthusiasm about the project, and for introducing me to Walter. What an amazing man, an amazing experience. Can’t wait to receive your cards. Thank you!

Read Part II

5 responses to “Day 10 (Part 1) – Mr. Walter Breuning”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Matthew,
    We have been following your project since it started, what an amazing journey. Loved the story about your grandfather and the inspiration for your project- he was a great man and gifted physician – I still remember the day he fixed my broken arm when I fell in the school yard in 7th Grade. We know his spirit travels with you as you take SBYF across the country. Your Blog is very impactful and we look forward to hearing more –
    Happy Trails,
    Gail and Jim Egan

  2. Anonymous says:

    WOW!! He sounds like an amazing gentleman! I am glad you found your way to him. Best wishes on the rest of your journey!

    Blanche Guernsey

  3. Mama Troubl says:

    now don’t forget the person who gave you directions to the rainbow on a post it note. 😉 I figured you were going down to visit walter. I love his story! 🙂

  4. Lauren says:

    Love it! I can’t believe you’ve met the oldest man in the world…totally cool. Sounds like you’re doing great and people are really loving the idea. keep your head up!

    Safe travels. xoxo.

  5. Anonymous says:

    wow matt!! thanks for the facebook reminder to checkout the website (which looks great now!) love reading and following the story! good luck with your continued travels!

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