- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - W. Wayne Dillinger recalls getting the question pretty much every year he can remember - and he can remember a whole lot.

“Are you any relation to the bank robber John Dillinger?”

At 99 years old and counting, the only thing Decatur’s Dillinger is guilty of stealing is a march on time. And the answer is no, as far as he has been able to ascertain, he is no blood kin to the bank robber and first Public Enemy No. 1, who died in a hail of FBI bullets in 1934.

“But if I had a penny from everybody who ever asked, I would be rich,” says Dillinger, amusement lighting his cornflower blue eyes. “It’s not an original question.”

He gets fewer questions about the Masons, but can tell you an awful lot more about them. Dillinger has just been made master, for the third time in his 70-year membership, of Stephen Decatur Lodge 979, which hangs out in the spectacular white stone temple downtown on West William Street.

The Stephen Decatur Lodge celebrates its 100th anniversary Oct. 14, and Dillinger will beat them to it by celebrating his 100th anniversary of being alive Aug. 10. Kenny Puckett, the past master of the lodge and just a kid at 67, says Stephen Decatur’s 540-strong membership will throw a big party in October to honor the lodge and celebrate the Master that have both endured since 1914.

“There might be another Mason who is 100 years old,” says Puckett. “But a Mason who will be 100 years old and serving as the master of the lodge? Mr. Dillinger is an amazing man.”

The newly re-elected master likes the Masons because, despite some Hollywood attempts to portray them as a secret society bent on world domination, they turn out to be a bunch of guys raising money to do good works.

The Shrine Masons (Shriners), for example, run the largest network of hospitals in the country for the care of burned and orthopedically impaired children. Masons coast to coast chip in $2 million a day to charitable causes.

They do have a tiny dash of mystery, and some ritual, which makes it all kind of fun and adds to the sense of camaraderie Dillinger has always found so appealing.

“Masonry was always about making progress,” he says. “I just thought it would be a good thing to join.”

And it’s always nice to have friends, especially when you spent most of your working life behind a post office counter facing some members of the public who act like they belong to a secret society for the promotion of rage.

“I waited on some people who would be upset very easily,” recalls Dillinger. “I worked for the post office for 32 years, and I met some people you could make mad just by agreeing with them.”

So, with his Masonic pals always at hand to ease his angst at the end of a long day, what other ingredients remain essential to a long life? It turns out bananas and honey rate highly while the Masonic master keeps his apron a healthy distance from the clutches of pasta.

“I developed a disliking for what a lot of people think is real good, and that’s noodles,” says Dillinger. You can forget spaghetti, too, and he’ll happily blackball any notion of eating macaroni and cheese. He does make a big deal out of breakfast, however, which has become a precisely scripted affair, always involving the munching of a good-size banana and the spreading a sweetly potent honey-peanut butter mix on his toast. Dillinger’s good friend and fellow Mason, Willie Snow, 86, has the peanut butter ground up specially for the friend he has known for half a century.

“Anything he needs, I go get it,” he says.

But no matter how careful the diet, Dillinger says we can’t realistically expect every bit of our body to endure through 100 years. One of the tricks in the high-stakes poker of longevity is knowing which cards you can discard and yet remain in the game.

“Well, in one way I can still say I have my own teeth,” explains Dillinger. “But I can say that because I bought them.”

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Source: The (Decatur) Herald and Review, https://bit.ly/1mRxnRS

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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