Wendell had big aspirations, being a teenager serving in the Navy during World War II in the South Pacific.

“It wasn’t a heroic two years,” he said. “I was on a converted banana boat. I signed up to be on a destroyer and got that instead. It turned out to be the best duty in the world, delivering fresh fruit to all the islands in the South Pacific.”

At the time, it wasn’t at all what he envisioned. As the Oakmont Livonia resident put it, “Oh, I cried for a year. I wanted to be on a destroyer so bad. It turned out to be, after everything’s said and done, pretty good.”

Wendell grew up around Detroit before his father had to move the family (due to a job transfer) from Royal Oak to Indiana. Eventually, they came back. It’s a good thing they did, because when he was a junior at Plymouth High School, he met a girl named Virginia in the school chorus.

Meeting his future wife Virginia

“I stood behind her and thought she was a nice-looking gal,” he said. “So I drew a heart on the inside of her raincoat, and I put my initials on it. That was the beginning.”

Eventually, after serving in the Navy, he and Virginia were married for 69 years. They lived in Plymouth and had four children while he worked for a local automotive supplier for 35 years. In that time and during his retirement, he enjoyed many sports, especially racquetball.

“I was pretty good about that,” Wendell said. “But I don’t brag about my golf.”

Five years ago, he and Virginia moved to Oakmont Livonia. Three years ago, she died of cancer. Although there are times he could feel melancholy, he looks around and realizes things could always be tougher.

“Life keeps you humble,” he said. “I never had so many lessons as I have had being here. I keep feeling sorry for myself, but I come across about someone worse off than me and I feel very humble.”

And it is true, everyone learns something with age.

“Do you ever,” he said. “You get wiser. You depend on the good Lord more and more.”

And so, even though life takes you to a banana boat instead of a battleship, and things often don’t turn out as planned, Wendell believes you have to be open to change and adjustment.

Learning to live day to day

“I just remember I took things as they came along,” he said. “I didn’t make provisions for the future, I just lived day to day. You start planning things and they go the other direction. You can’t plan too far ahead.”

What truly matters to Wendell is the family he and Virginia built.

“When I tried to figure out what I accomplished, it goes back to my family. We had a good life,” he said. “With my kids, how they turned out, I guess has to do with the way I grew up, too. My dad never smoked or drank. If he did, he did it in the barn or someplace.

“I grew up that way. I drank a little bit, and I never smoked. I tried all that when I was 18 or 19 in the Navy. I got it out of my system.”