John Hollinger: 100 and Still Swimming

For many people, the idea of exercising multiple times a week is not very appealing. At 100, Phoebe Berks resident John Hollinger makes it a habit to swim, lift weights, walk and use a treadmill – all at least twice a week! “I’ve always been active and I think that is the main reason I am living so long,” says Hollinger.

Hollinger is an exception to most people’s vision of how our elders look and act at the age of 100. Like many other Phoebe Berks residents, he is a shining example of healthy aging. “With all the facilities they have here, there is so much residents can take advantage of,” he says.

In addition to the treadmill, he walks everywhere around the community, especially indoors around the second floor since the outside paths are a little too hilly for his liking. Hollinger also competes in dart baseball and Wii bowling at the weekly evening matches residents organize themselves.

And his activities don’t stop there. Hollinger competes in the Inter-Community Games, a quarterly event that moves to different retirement communities in Berks and Lancaster counties and is sponsored by the resident-led Phoebe Berks Sports and Recreation Task Force. Out of the multiple games that are played at each location, he enjoys bocce, Wii bowling and shuffleboard the most.

Hollinger’s interest in keeping active began in childhood. A lifelong resident of Berks County, he and his five siblings swam at the Carsonia Park Pool and he worked there with his older brother and sisters.

During the Great Depression, Hollinger had to find free places to swim because money was tight and he had to quit school in order to help support the family. Close to home was a reservoir that the Reading Railroad Company would use to stock the steam engines. He and his friends would sneak in to swim and the railroad police usually ended up chasing them out. “We never know how deep the water was that we were swimming in,” he remembers. The Schuylkill River was another nearby landmark he and his friends frequented but at the time it was still polluted by coal dirt from the mines north of Reading. “You would come out with black all over your body, around your mouth, especially,” he recalls.

Hollinger swam competitively at the YMCA until his military service began. “I like competitive things. I like trying to see how I can compare with other athletes.” His last competitive swim match took place while he served in Hawaii during World War II. He was 33, married and had a 10-year-old daughter.  The men he competed against were just out of high school. “I was the oldest in the outfit but I did very well considering they were much younger than me.”

Competitive rifle shooting was another lifelong passion and ironically, it helped to keep him out of combat during the war. He was so skilled at it that he taught rifle shooting to other Marines at Paris Island during the war. “I bought my first rifle when I was a teenager for under $5. When I brought it home, they almost threw me out of the house. I just had a liking for it for some reason,” he says.
At Cartech, where Hollinger worked for the majority of his life, he helped to coach a women’s rifle shooting team and his wife, Jeanette, shot with them. He also enjoyed competing in the Inter-county Rifle League until two years ago when he lost vision in his shooting eye. Just prior to this, he was the top shooter in his age group.

Jeanette’s need for skilled nursing care was the reason Hollinger made a move to Phoebe Berks 18 years ago. She moved into the Phoebe Berks Health Care Center and he purchased an apartment in the Village so he could visit her frequently. “I only missed seven days of visiting her in the six years she lived in the Health Care Center,” he says of the convenience of being on the same campus.

Hi advice to others is to keep yourself as active as possible. “I think keeping active also keeps your mind healthy,” he says. As far as diet is concerned, Hollinger doesn’t believe it has made an impact on his health and enjoys treats and certain regional specialties. “I’ve outlived a bunch of doctors who tried to put me on diets,” he says laughing. “As long as you stay fit, you can enjoy the good things in life, too.”

Hollinger turned 100 in February of 2013 and celebrated with a party in the auditorium with his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Over 100 people attended, including other Phoebe Berks residents.