Clair Gobble adds a surprise party to a century of memories

Clair Gobble was surrounded by friends during a party last weekend to help him celebrate his 100th birthday at Springdale Village in Mesa, where he lives. The celebrants included his daughter Connie Smith, right foreground,

Clair E. Gobble believes the secret to a long life is pretty simple.

“Believe in the Lord. Have a positive attitude. Lead a clean life.”

He ought to know. He turned 100 last weekend.

He celebrated with a gathering of his only child, Connie Smith, and some of his fellow residents of Springdale Village in east Mesa who threw a surprise party that likely will be cherished in his memories for a long time.

It will be cherished like many of his other memories from a life that has spanned a century —  64 years of marriage to his wife Ione, who passed away nine years ago; coming out to Mesa in 1950 after service 3 and a half years in the Navy as a signalman in the Pacific Theater in World War II; and all the people he met as a volunteer for 26 years at Banner Baywood Hospital when it was still called Mesa Lutheran.

Gobble grew up on a farm in Iowa, the third youngest of four sons of a man who “did all right for someone who only had a second grade education and couldn’t write.”

“He knew when to sell hogs and when to feed them and he raised four boys,” Gobble recalled.

Gobble had stayed on the farm after his brothers had moved until he signed up for the Navy on Feb. 13, 1942 — a Friday.

“I remember the recruiter saying to us, “Anyone superstitious? It’s too late.”

He served on an amphibious craft, using Morse code to relay messages between ships, and he was at the Battle of Guadalcanal — the first major Allied offensive that ended in victory and that Gobble recalls chiefly for the relentless bombing and for one particular moment when a Japanese plane went down near his ship.

“We were going to save the pilot and started to bring him up, but as soon as we did, he pulled out his gun. And then that was it. We didn’t save him.”

He moved to Mesa for his wife’s health.

She was a teacher, he said, and “had a terrific voice. She sang at weddings and was very much in demanded.

“We had 64 wonderful years together,” he added.

He had come to Arizona about six weeks ahead of Ione to find a job and had interviews in Mesa and Tucson. “I picked the job in Mesa because it was a little more money, more security,” he said.

For 17 years he worked at a long-gone company as a receiving clerk and then held other jobs until he and Ione retired in 1986.

“We went on a three-week vacation and then we both started volunteering at the hospital,” he said, adding that his wife had to quit after 12 years for health reasons.

He worked at the information desk and helped with admissions and check-outs and enjoyed giving back as much as he could.

They also were active in the First United Methodist Church in downtown Mesa, where his wife was a Sunday school teacher and he served as an usher for many years.

These days Gobble can’t walk as much as he used to. He loved to take long walks, he said, but now he’s pretty much confined to going up and down a corridor that’s 70 feet long in his walker.

He plays bingo and pinochle, and likes to keep up with current events on TV. “And I like puzzles. I do a lot of puzzles,” he added.

And he still basked in the glow of the party his daughter threw for him last week, adding that to a treasury of memories from a life well lived.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I couldn’t have had a better party.”

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