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A Century of Accomplishment and Adventure…

Dr. Walter Asbeck

Ohman Family Communities
By Joshua Wallace, administrator Ohman Family Communities

Imagine 103 years of life…

Born in Germany in 1915, Dr. Walter Asbeck, a gregarious, life-loving, congenial man is an inspiration for us all. Try this for the short list of life experiences. He raced against Jesse Owen (African-American, four-time gold medalist at the 1936 Olympics in Germany); earned his Doctorate of Engineering in Germany; witnessed Hitler’s parades repeatedly; invented an amphibious water craft; became a noted speaker and authored two books.

Asbeck was 8 when he was moved from Hagen Germany (about five hours west of Berlin in North Germany) to Cleveland Ohio. “Things were very bad in Germany right after the war (WWI),” Walter shares. “My dad was sent over by his company, and then worked for White Sewing Machines.” Walter’s father had originally planned to return to Germany, but the economic climate deteriorated so badly, he sent for his family. 

As a high school student in Lakewood, suburb of Cleveland, Walter ran competitively. He along with several others raced in a meet against Jesse Owen, who at that time attended East Tech in Cleveland. “I was pretty good,” smiles Walter. “He beat us all, but we thought, he was just a fast kid. I never dreamed he would one day be an Olympic medalist.”

After receiving his bachelors and masters from Case Western University in Cleveland, Walter decided to travel. He had applied for and received a full scholarship to earn his doctorate in Germany, so he and a Viennese-Case grad jumped on a freighter – at that time, freighters carried passengers as well – and they travelled the world for a year. “We took the long route,” quips Walt. “We saw China, Japan, India, Africa and spent about three months in Sri Lanka. I had run out of cash, so I had to work on a boat to pay for the rest of the trip.” There were two jobs available according to the captain, a steward and a coaler. Walter received the steward position and his friend was to shovel coal. The agreement was that they would switch jobs half way through the voyage, but due to Walter’s previous waiter’s experience and model service, the captain squelched the plan asserting Walt would keep the steward job. “It was a wonderful time, the world was at peace, and we were treated well everywhere we went,” shares Walt. Walter recounts these escapades in his book titled “My First Adventures”.

Walter did finally make it to Berlin and earned his Doctorate at the Technical University. WWII broke out just four months into his stay and life changed. He recalls seeing Hitler marching by on many occasions, as well as listening to him on the radio. “He was a good speaker,” says Walt. Food was at the time was expensive due to the runaway inflation of the Weimar Republic. So, Hitler’s promises of a better life got him elected. He did lead the country to prosperity that lasted until about 1942 when the tide of the war began to change. Walter has written a book titled “Escape from Berlin” recounting this very interesting experience.

Walter returned to the US after securing a position conducting research for Sherwin Williams in Chicago. It was there he met his wife, Doris. She passed away a few years ago. “She was a secretary and loved to travel,” said Walter. They travelled to Europe about 15 times during their 64-year marriage. 

The Asbecks raised two sons and a daughter in Charleston, West Virginia where Walter worked for Union Carbide. He had become well respected for his research regarding coatings and plastics. “I was on stage in Chicago speaking, and following the talk they (officials from Union Carbide) made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” Years later, Walter and Doris moved back to the Cleveland area to take over a family import business and he did that for the remainder of his career. Their sons are engineers and their daughter, now a resident of Chardon, was a dietitian. She cared for her parents for many years. Walter now resides with us at Holly Hill Health Care. “They treat me really well here,” he mentions in his usual lighthearted style.

When asked for the secret to a long life? “Just luck, I did not do anything any different than anyone else,” he remarks. When asked about the most remarkable changes over time, he talks mainly about the impact of air flight. “It used to take nine days to cross the ocean, now it is just several hours.” Most impressive about Walter, is his outlook. In his view, people are wonderful and his attitude is cheery. Surely this has something to do with his expansive healthy life.


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