Phillips/Powderhorn resident Walter Ortman turns 102 on Dec. 3. He is a steady, serious, kind man who is keenly interested in everything and everyone around him. I first met him 14 years ago when I started playing piano at First Church of God, 35th Avenue and 32nd Street. Sometimes, before the offerings, Walter would give entertaining talks encouraging people to part with their money for the good of the church.
At his 100th birthday, his daughter Joanne calculated that so far he had lived 52.5 million minutes. By all accounts he’s been a diligent steward of that time. Thoughtfully, he says, “What you waste you can’t relive—it’s gone.” Then he recalls a homespun jingle: “Sixty seconds in a minute. How much good can I do in it?” Walter has figured that out time and again. When his father died suddenly, Walter stepped up and took over the family’s North Dakota farm. During his three years and three months of military service, Ortmann was part of the Air Force’s sea-rescue team, pulling wounded soldiers out of South Pacific waters. “I was glad I was in the saving of lives rather than killing,” he said. Following the war, he got a degree in social work and then married Lois, a brown-eyed nurse who also believed in serving others. In their 63 years together, he says she consistently understood his dedication to social work and his commitment to always being available to people who needed him. Against the rules, he used to hand out his card with his personal phone number on it and a dime attached for a phone call. When he turned 65, in 1976, he was required by law to retire. Later, he was able to return to work, mostly counseling.
Ortman can’t believe he’s been retired longer than he worked. That doesn’t mean he twiddles his thumbs, though. He is so busy that he sometimes “gets behind,” he says. He is the bookkeeper at First Church of God, where he’s been a member forever. He’s in a book club, he goes for walks.
Walter Ortman has had a full, rewarding life. But he does wonder how it is possible that in 52.5 million minutes-plus he has never learned to play a musical instrument.
Anyone wishing to say Happy Birthday can reach him at Waters of Minnehaha, 3733 23rd Ave. S., Mpls. 55407.