They had a 103rd birthday party Saturday for William “Willie” Polep at Nichols Restaurant in the Villa Marina Marketplace.
The restaurant was picked for the birthday observance because Polep is among a group of friends that has been sharing breakfast at the restaurant every Saturday morning for years.
Friends Frank and Pat Underwood said they met Willie at Nichols Restaurant when he turned 100 and have celebrated his birthday at the restaurant every year since.
Willie’s sons Chuck and Richard and Richard’s wife, Sue, said Willie has been coming to the restaurant for almost nine years.
Willie’s favorite waitress, Flora Masson, met Willie at the door, saying, “Come to Mama,” and gave Willie a big hug and kiss before leading him to his special booth.
Masson said she is “just amazed” by Willie and the fact that he is so active.
“Willie is a wonderful person, and we all love him,” said Masson.
Underwood said that Willie always tips his hat to the ladies in the restaurant and that he considers it rude not to remove his hat in a room.
As Willie arrived for his party, Underwood asked for the attention of the restaurant patrons, announcing that Willie was celebrating his 103rd birthday, drawing cheers and applause for Willie.
Restaurant patrons came over to Willie’s table, to shake his hand and wish him a happy birthday.
“The real key to Willie is his love of life, and that he always says, ‘Don’t worry’,” said his daughter-in-law Sue.
“I asked Willie to teach me his philosophy about not worrying, because I’d certainly like to be able to do that,” she said with a laugh.
Willie was born July 8th, 1901, and grew up in Boston.
He had three brothers and two sisters. His father later bought a farm and expected Willie and his brothers to work on the farm.
But Willie had other ideas and he left home, serving in both the Merchant Marines and the Army at separate times.
Looking for work after he left the service, Willie said jobs were scarce, and he was willing to take almost anything.
“I worked for the circus as a snake charmer and traveled all over the country,” Willie admitted. “It was wonderful meeting people from all over the world that also worked for the circus.”
Willie says he didn’t know a thing about snakes and that the only training he got was being told to hold the snake by the head and to protect his face and neck.
Trying to get to California, where his mother lived, Willie didn’t have the money to buy a train ticket, so he literally “rode the rails,” riding not in a boxcar, but underneath it,” said his son Chuck.
Willie met his future wife, Mollie, at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the two were married for 52 years, said his son Richard.
Willie was in the scrap metal business from age 64 to age 79, when he retired to give his Mollie — since deceased — 24-hour care when she became ill, said Richard.
Saturday, Willie walked from the parking lot into the restaurant.
“The guy simply amazes me,” Underwood said. “He’s still sharp as a tack.”