- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For Ernie Whaley, that first step happened inside the Muncie Mall.

“Walking is my business,” Whaley said. “Never take my cane or my car. If you do, you might as well shoot me.”

On Feb. 13, Whaley celebrated his 100th birthday. Whaley is a World War II veteran, he worked for 44 years as a machinist at the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Co. and, for the last three decades, he’s walked the interior of the McGalliard Road shopping center.

Weather permitting, Whaley completes approximately five miles lapping the tiled floors of the mall each day. To put that in perspective, Whaley has walked more than 14 times the width of the United States inside the mall. In his 35th year of mall walking, Whaley is nearing a distance doubling the circumference of Earth.

He said that much walking gives you a lot of time for reflection.

“I mostly think about . getting old, I guess!” Whaley said.

The centenarian has become a regular source of inspiration for walkers and mall staff.

“He’s always smiling, always has this great attitude,” mall security director Sandy Suddoth said. “He makes you just want to get out there and walk with him.”

Whaley’s first birthday predates the invention of the television by a decade and the construction of the first shopping mall by nearly 50 years.

He’s witnessed monumental changes in his lifetime. Wars have started and ended, presidents have come and gone, and technology has restructured the world into which he was born.

Inside the mall, things have changed, too. Whaley has been a presence at the mall longer than any existing employee. His daughter, Pam Hartley, has witnessed a profound bond form between her father, mall staff and his “entourage” of walkers.

“These people are wonderful,” Hartley said. “They’re like family to him, that’s what keeps him going, the camaraderie and the attention.”

Mall management organized a surprise birthday party for Whaley, who received his own, official mall parking space as part of the ceremony. Dozens of mall walkers and employees attended the party.

“I love each and every one of these people; some a little more than others,” Whaley joked.

The century-old walker has joined an exclusive segment of the population. According to U.S. census data, only about one in every 10,000 people live to be 100, and only about 20 percent of those counted were male.

Decades-long walking partners of Whaley, Peggy McCartney and Sarah Wornbach attribute his wellness to lasting friendships as much as they do to his consistent exercise schedule.

“It’s because of all of his walking but it’s also because we help keep him entertained,” McCartney said. “I hope we’ve helped keep him younger.”

Along with the exercise, Whaley doesn’t drink or smoke. He said, however, he doesn’t know the “secret” to living longer.

“My diet is that I’ll eat pretty much anything I can get my hands on,” Whaley said. “I guess the most important thing is the walking.”

Whaley hopes he can add to his total distance over the next several years.

“They key to making it this far is a lot of hard work and a lot of love,” Whaley said.


Source: The (Muncie) Star-Press, https://tspne.ws/2ktHgaf


Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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