Wilbert “Whip” Hesterberg remembers when wheat cost 25 cents a bushel, corn cost 17 cents a bushel, gas cost 25 cents a gallon and soda and beer cost 5 cents a bottle.
He also remembers when cars could not drive up steep hills and a passenger had to manually operate the windshield wipers.
That’s because the lifelong Monroe County resident recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Since he was born on June 24, 1918, all those prices have gone up and automobiles have advanced extensively.
“That’s the way life is,” said Hesterberg, who still lives on his own in the Maeystown residence he has called home since 1952. “I never expected to be 100 years old. I guess nobody expects that.”
Hesterberg’s family hosted a party and open house Sunday at Acorns Golf Links in Wartburg to celebrate his milestone birthday.
Hesterberg has five children, 18 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
The family estimated approximately 500 people attended the event. The line to wish Hesterberg a happy birthday reached out the door at times.
“It was good,” Hesterberg said of the party. “Man, was there people there. They lined up outside. Man there was a lot of them.”
The well-wishers came from across the country, including California, Texas, North Carolina and Chicago.
Hesterberg also received hundreds of cards for his birthday.
He credits his late wife, Florence, with all his ability to form friendships, saying she helped show him how to be kind to people.
“She didn’t meet a stranger,” he said. “If she saw you and didn’t know you, she would go up and talk to you.”
Another honor Hesterberg received for his birthday was when U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) wished him a happy birthday from the floor in Congress.
“Wasn’t that something,” Hesterberg said of the birthday wish. “I can’t believe it. It makes me cry.”
Although he appreciates these latest events, he said he counts his son going to college in California as one of the most memorable moments of his life.
“In those days going to California was something big,” Hesterberg said with a smile. “And when he graduated he went over to Holland to teach.”
While he singled out his son’s accomplishment, his daughter Lynne Hicks said her parents helped all their children with their wisdom.
“He did teach me a lot, him and my mom,” she said. “They taught us how to work hard and love our family and value our family. I always love hearing his stories and I appreciate our life that we have and what he did to make our life what it is now. It’s so much easier for us than what they had.”
Before he retired, Hesterberg worked for four years on a farm. He also worked for 35 yeas at the now defunct Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. When that grocery store chain closed, he finished his career working at a nursing home.
Hicks said throughout those jobs and even now, Hesterberg has a simple philosophy.
“He always taught us to be happy and keep smiling,” Hicks said. “He always says, ‘a smile will get you everywhere.’”
Hesterberg’s advice for anyone wanting a long and happy life like he has had takes a similar approach, though he said it is nothing profound.
“Everybody asks me that,” he said of his advice as he laughed heartily. “The only thing I can tell them is be nice to people and love people. I love everybody. I don’t care who they are, I love them. My wife did, too. If they don’t love you, then get away from them.”