Rodolfo “Rudy” Calderon wants to buy a new car.
“It’s getting too old,” the Pacoima resident says of his vehicle, which is about to reach the 10-year mark.
That’s about 90 years younger than Calderon, who will celebrate is 100th birthday on Sunday, March 13.
He needs the car so he can drive around Christina, his new bride of six months.
They met last year on his birthday. She came to congratulate him and they hit it off, said Calderon.
A whirlwind romance followed. They got married a few months later and have been living together since then.
But they don’t stay in the house much. Almost every day they visit the Alicia Broadous-Duncan MultiPurpose Center, where Calderon helps organizing the monthly food bank.
Calderon was the owner of a shoe repair shop along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima known as the “Shoe Clinic.” He retired in 1984, and was coming to the senior center even before it was relocated to its present address along Glenoaks Boulevard.
At 99, Calderon is more energetic than people 20 or 30 years younger. He drives, his eyesight is still good and he walks fine without a cane or any help. And his memory is impeccable.
He says he doesn’t feel his age.
“I don’t feel any older than a year ago, five years ago or 10 years ago,” Calderon said.
Turning 100-years-old “is no big deal. Everybody gets old. Life just comes around,” he continued.
Originally From Phoenix
Calderon was born in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1916, a year before the United States entered World War I. It was a time when there weren’t many programs on the radio, and television didn’t exist.
He lived through the Great Depression and witnessed the U.S. enter the Second World War. The oldest of four siblings, he was in his 30s when he was drafted into the Army as WWII was ending. His other three younger brothers were already serving; one would die fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.
Calderon, however, stayed stateside.
“We were at the port in San Francisco waiting to be shipped out and instead they started shipping us home,” he recounted.
He went back to his family in Phoenix. Years later they came out to California on vacation “and never went back.”
Calderon made it to Los Angeles in the early 1950s. At the time, housing was scarce; he and his family lived in a veteran housing village near Griffith Park, where the Los Angeles Zoo is now located. Eventually he got a job in the San Fernando Valley, and they moved to Pacoima.
“There was a lot of open space, not crowded like we have now,” he said.
Calderon worked for Lockheed for a while and then opened his shoe repair shop, a trade he learned from his father and an uncle. “I kind of grew up into it and took it on,” he said.
Eventually he bought a brand new, three-bedroom house in Pacoima, where he still lives, for $10,000. During the time he had his shop, Calderon was involved with the Chamber of Commerce and took part in petitions to bring bus lines and sewer lines to this area of the Valley. Back then, Pacoima was “pretty much a barren place,” Calderon recalled.
He’s been coming the senior center for more than 30 years. He takes part in field trips, games and anything else that happens there.
Last year, Calderon represented the senior center in the Pacoima Christmas Parade.
“Nothing seems to slow him down,” says Patricia Austin, the Center’s director. “Everybody knows him. He’s very well respected. He doesn’t chat much, but when he does talk, he’s got great stories to tell.”
It was at the senior center where his life changed.
Calderon met Christine last year on his 99th birthday. She was turning 91 on the same day.
“She came over to congratulate me on my birthday and we kind of hit it off,” Calderon said.
They were married six months later, and started a new life together.
“He is a wonderful man, patient and very kind, very good,” said Christina, of her new husband.
Calderon’s first wife died in 1974. He still finds it difficult to talk about her.
But he seems happy that Christina is now part of his life.
“Either you live alone and bother your children, or find a partner to spend your time with,” he says.
Two of his 10 children have passed away. But Calderon said he has more grandkids, great-grandkids and great-great grandkids that he count.
Many of them live in other parts of the country. But they always celebrate his birthday, and he’s pretty sure many family members are coming here this weekend to throw him a celebration for his 100th birthday.
Calderon himself doesn’t see it as a big deal. He says his parents lived until their 90s and “maybe it’s hereditary.” He can’t think of anything else in particular that has allowed him to live this long.
“You just keep living,” he said. “I can do just about anything, just not as good, not as fast and not as many times as before,” Calderon said.
“Todo por servir se acaba (Everything good comes to an end). Life doesn’t change a whole lot. In my time we didn’t have radio or TV, and [now] every year there is some new technology that comes out and which I don’t have, but things are not so different. The changes in life are so gradual, you don’t really notice these things are happening.”
He feels proud and lucky to see is his children having grown up and the family together.
“That’s one of my best achievements,” Calderon said.
And his advice to the rest of us?
“I always followed my needs, my desires. You make mistakes, but if you keep at it you’ll get to your goals,” he said.