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A Hopeful Spirit's 90th Birthday

Tracy Friedman

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Daddy's girl
(Valerie Pogue)
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Tracy Friedman, a screenwriter and professor, recently spent a three-day weekend back at her childhood home in Milwaukee. Weekend America's Charlie Schroeder has her story:


Presidents Day Weekend was a big weekend for Tracy Friedman. She flew from Los Angeles, where she lives, to Milwaukee, where she grew up, to celebrate her father's 90th birthday.

"I can see that he's aged over the years," Friedman says. "But if you just met him, you'd never believe he was 90."

On Friedman's first day back, she sat down with her dad, Valbur Bolger, in a Starbucks to talk about what it's like to be 90.

"You think of yourself as being well," he told her. "You think of all of the things that you'd like to do, but sometimes the body gets to the point where it says 'uh-uh.'"

"He's got the aches and pains of a 90-year-old, but he's incredibly healthy," she says. "He's the type of person that would probably go out and still shovel snow."

Bolger was born on Valentine's Day, 1918. His parents planned to name him Wilbur after his grandfather, but when he was born on Valentine's Day, they changed their minds. They took the first part of Valentine ("Val") and the last part of Wilbur ("bur") and they put the two together to create the wholly original name "Valbur."

"My first name is one of those concoctions that thoughtless parents wreak upon a child," Valbur says, adding that he's "suffered a great deal throughout my life."

But having an unusual name didn't keep people away from Bolger's celebration -- about 50 or 60 people attended the party.

"We don't have a lot of relatives," Friedman says. "I have a fairly small family, so these were mostly friends, relations he's developed since the death of my mother and my sister, which happened in 1988 and 1989."

Those relations developed later in Bolger's life when he was invited to join the "picnic group," a local Milwaukee contingent of artists and architects. "They get together every Monday night for a potluck supper," Friedman says. "Through them [my dad] became very interested in art."

The Picnic Group has about 25 members and they were all at the party -- including Art Thrall, who carved out some time to toast Bolger's health.

"I've only known you for a few years since you've been in our picnic group," he said. "You do no look or act your age. Time has been kind to you. And I stand in awe."

"You could sense a great warmth and appreciation," Friedman says of Thrall's tribute. "But he also said he hadn't known my father very long. The people at this party really reflected the last part of my father's life."

According to Friedman, Bolger had a lot of unhappiness in the middle years of his life. "He was able to move on from that and make a new life for himself with new friends and new relationships," she says. "I think the party was a real testimony to that hopeful spirit."

The day Friedman left, her father drove her to the airport in his convertible. When the two of them got out of the car he gave her a hug. "I saw that he was crying," Friedman says. "And I said 'What's the matter, dad?'"

Bolger sniffed and caught his breath: "When you get to be my age," he said, "you think every time you say goodbye to someone, it may be the last time you say goodbye to them."

"That was sad and also very true," Friedman says. "He's 90 and he seems incredibly healthy... But people don't live forever."

Still, Friedman thinks her dad will live to be 100. And when he reaches the century mark, he'll still have his convertible. "I'm going to keep it until I'm 100," he says.

And where will his 100th birthday party take place?

"It'll probably be in the same place," Valbur says. "But by that time I'm going to sit back and let someone else do the whole damn thing."

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