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Local

Sycamore resident turning 100, still working

Wolfenberger regularly drives a bulldozer on his farm

Al Wolfenberger still runs heavy machinery on his farm outside Sycamore, even as he turns 100. He began working on farms when he moved to Sycamore from West Virginia in 1936, and still works his land, even though a doctor told him to stop in 1953.
Al Wolfenberger still runs heavy machinery on his farm outside Sycamore, even as he turns 100. He began working on farms when he moved to Sycamore from West Virginia in 1936, and still works his land, even though a doctor told him to stop in 1953.

SYCAMORE – A few years ago, Al Wolfenberger needed to do some painting and repairs to the roof of his home on State Street. He climbed on the roof and, when he needed to be on the side of the home, he used two ladders with a board in between as make-shift scaffolding. He was 97.

Even though he turned 100 on Friday, Wolfenberger is still working. On his farm, he still runs his bulldozer, digging a drainage ditch. His son-in-law, Bruce Cain, keeps the machinery running, but Wolfenberger is in the driver's seat.

"I enjoy it," he said. "I ain't going to slow down."

In 1936, Wolfenberger moved to Illinois from Point Pleasant, West Virginia, at 19 on short notice and with $25 in his pocket. He began working farms in DeKalb and Lee counties, doing everything from walking fields to milking cows.

"My friend said he was going on Monday, and on Saturday we left," Wolfenberger said.

Working on farms, he always asked for the pay he felt he deserved. If a farmer wouldn't pay it, he would find a farmer who would.

He bought his first farm for himself in 1948 with 80 acres and cows and pigs. He farmed, but he also bought and sold farms.

"I'd sell one if I got enough for it," he said.

He worked on farms until a doctor told him in 1952 that he had to quit because of a heart condition. That's when he earned his broker's license by taking courses in Chicago and began selling real estate. He was in the right place at the right time, he said.

As the suburbs expanded into the rural areas of Cook and then Kane counties, farmers were selling their land to developers. Because of the tax laws, they had to buy property soon after or pay a larger tax on the sale. Wolfenberger found he was helping farmers near what would become O'Hare Airport in Chicago and Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg sell their farms to the developers, then purchase farms in the DeKalb and Sycamore area to relocate.

His wife, Yvonne, helps him on his projects around the house, helping him up ladders or carting out pieces from the demolition phase of a bathroom remodel.

"He hasn't stopped," she said.

Wolfenberger makes projects for himself around the house. A year ago, he remodeled one of the bathrooms in his home, breaking up and carrying out an old cast-iron bathtub to turn the area into a shower.

"I have to come up with my own projects," he said. "Who's going to hire me at my age?"

To celebrate, Wolfenberger's family is hosting an open house brunch 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church at 530 W. State St., Sycamore. Everyone in the community is welcome to attend.

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