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Weather Centenarian Follows Dad's Footsteps

August 20, 1995|ZACH MAXWELL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

GREGORY, S.D. — Guy R. Burkholder has spent nearly 40 years calling in weather data to the National Weather Service. Not bad, considering he is 103 and did not start doing it until he retired from a local bank.

"My dad lived here--he was a weatherman. So when he passed away, I just took over," said Burkholder, a World War I veteran whose family has recorded Gregory's weather since 1912.

Burkholder checks the temperature and precipitation every day--when he's not traveling--and reports it to the weather service as part of the volunteer weather observer program. He began on May 1, 1956.

Burkholder was recently selected to receive the weather service's John Campanius Holm Award, which goes to only 25 of the more than 10,000 weather observers annually. The award is named for a Lutheran minister who in 1644-1645 first made systematic weather observations in the American Colonies.

His tools include a computerized thermometer and a special bucket near his garden that, when combined with a ruler, gauges rainfall and snowfall.

During a visit, the conversation turns, naturally, to the weather in Gregory, a town of 1,400 people about 140 miles southwest of Sioux Falls.

"We had rain last night for the first time in months," he said, noting that it amounted to 1.41 inches.

One of the hottest temperatures he's recorded was in July, when the mercury soared to 107. And there were two memorable snowstorms in May: "We had 36 inches--twice."

"I have pictures showing snow halfway up the windows here [about 5 feet]," Burkholder said of a snowstorm about 30 years ago.

Besides droughts and blizzards, Burkholder recalls a tornado about 20 years ago that "tore up the pavement on the highway north of town."

Burkholder, who recently was hospitalized with pneumonia, got out of the hospital on his 103rd birthday. It was the first overnight hospital stay of his life.

He attributes his health and longevity to heredity. "My entire family has enjoyed long life. My father lived to the age of 92."

"He is a natural survivor," Dick Shoemaker said of his friend, Burkholder. "He makes things happen, and that's why he's in the shape he's in. He certainly has a lot to teach young people as far as how to grow old gracefully."

Burkholder was born in Chamberlain, about 50 miles to the north, in 1892. He moved with his family to Gregory when he was 21. After two years with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War I, he returned home and took a job at Gregory National Bank. Burkholder, who never married, eventually became the bank's vice president. He also served as city clerk for 19 years.

These days, he keeps busy with his weather duties and community organizations. Burkholder is a charter member of Hutchison Post No. 6 of the American Legion. He helped start the local Rotary Club and has belonged to the Masonic Lodge for nearly 80 years.

Residents credit Burkholder's involvement with improving the quality of life in Gregory.

The city proclaimed "Guy Burkholder Day" on July 12, 1992, Burkholder's 100th birthday. The agency that oversees the National Weather Service gave him a "Birthday Weather Report" for July 12, 1892--a plaque describing the weather in his hometown the day he was born.

His birthdays have come to be quite an occasion; four banners hang in his living room commemorating his second-century celebrations. Burkholder pointed proudly to two foot-high stacks of colored envelopes. "I've got 110 birthday cards," he said.

He used to accompany Max and Dorothy Miner on vacations to exotic places, including the Caribbean and Mexico. When Max Miner died in October, Burkholder said he was devastated.

"We were pals for 30 years," he said. "We went everywhere together and took many trips."

Shoemaker, a rancher who met Burkholder through the Rotary Club, shared stories about the centenarian, who is a proud gardener.

"This spring we took him down to the flower shop. All they had was pink begonias--he wanted red ones," said Shoemaker. They called three different places; he finally got his red begonias.

Until two years ago, Burkholder still drove to Stukel's Corner Cafe, his favorite restaurant, in his Cadillac. Now, the Shoemakers and others take him when they can.

"Guy loves to travel and go places. He likes to eat out locally and see people he knows. Not often do we see people he doesn't know," Joan Shoemaker said.

"He has an articulate memory. Guy is very much up on what happens in the news. . . . he's a true patriot."

Dick Shoemaker joked, "He's gotten his use out of the Social Security system."

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