Longtime Columbia resident Maurice Schneider was treated to several surprises last week for the celebration of his 100th birthday.
Schneider was born March 6, 1920, and moved to Columbia from Cisne in 1936.
One birthday surprise was a letter from St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt wishing Schneider a happy birthday on behalf of the entire organization.
“You have followed the team through the Gas House Gang, Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith and Yadier Molina. We hope to bring you another championship season this year. Best wishes to you and your family, and thanks for your loyal support,” part of the letter read.
Schneider, a lifelong Cardinals fan, shared that his father was a St. Louis Browns fan and that they had a few arguments about who the best team was until the Browns left St. Louis after the 1953 season.
Schneider said his favorite memory of the Cardinals is the 2011 World Series Game 6 victory over the Texas Rangers.
Another surprise Thursday came during a “card shower” and birthday party at Garden Place in Columbia. Longtime family friend Wendy Norman, who considers Schneider an “uncle,” said that Garden Place employees shared a Facebook campaign in which people were encouraged to send Schneider birthday cards. Many of the nearly 100 cards were given to him that day. Staff reported that he received cards from around the country.
The biggest surprise came during a birthday party with his family at Garden Place on Friday afternoon.
Members of the Columbia American Legion Post 581 and Auxiliary presented Schneider with a certificate of appreciation and a certificate of commendation for “outstanding service and assistance which contributed to the advancement of the American Legion programs and activities dedicated to God and Country.”
Schneider, a World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient, joined Post 581 in 1944 and served as its first WWII veteran commander.
Current Post 581 commander Greg Smith presented Schneider with the certificate, thanking him for over 75 years of service to the American Legion.
“It should come as no surprise that Maurice was born in the same month and same year when the American Legion was formed. You are actually two weeks older than the Legion,” Smith noted with a smile.
Schneider began several Legion traditions, such as having a Legion Queen crowned at their annual dance and the serving of Turkey Day meals as a fundraiser. He also helped begin the post’s Drill Team, which has since been rated one of the top drill teams in Illinois.
Schneider was also chairman of Post 581’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs for over 30 years.
Schneider began his military service after graduating from Columbia High School in 1940. He was awarded the Bronze Star in 1942 for combat service in New Guinea. He recalled that it was Christmas day when he and his unit were traveling to a jungle region of the country and were near a river when they encountered Japanese troops in the area and began a seven-day defense of their position.
“We dug in and were in an area where the tide came in,” Schneider recalled on Friday. “It wasn’t a place you wanted to be, but when someone is shooting at you, it doesn’t matter. We captured the area and drove (the Japanese troops) out seven days later.”
After his discharge in 1945, he married Myrtle Dotzauer of Columbia. They were married for almost 70 years. They had a daughter, Susan, who graduated as valedictorian of the CHS Class of 1973.
He continued his civil service, spending most of his career as chief procurement of helicopter purchases from 1956 to 1984 for the U.S. Army Aviation and Surface Command.
Norman commented that it was an accomplishment to have held that position during the Vietnam War, considering the amount of helicopters used during the conflict.
In addition to his military and civil service, Schneider has held many offices in Columbia, including Congregational President of St. Paul Lutheran Church, member and president of the Columbia School Board and board member for Columbia Public Library. Schneider has also received a Key to the City and was a member of the group that was on hand in Connecticut for the 1994 launching of the USS Columbia, a submarine that is named after the cities in Illinois, Missouri and South Carolina.
The Columbia City Council issued a proclamation “Recognizing and Honoring Maurice Daniel Schneider” during its March 2 meeting.
Norman told the Republic-Times on Tuesday that Schneider was “really tickled” with a group of cards that recently came in from a teacher who had her students send birthday wishes.
She also jokingly said he is doing well in spite of having two days of partying last week – adding that “he is a very humble man, loved by those of us who know him.”
As for the secret to long life, Schneider couldn’t comment. “I had no inkling I’d live this long,” he said.