NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Wearing a Pehquenakonck Country Club polo shirt, Eugene Kurka asked to put on his American Legion cap when he posed for a photo a couple of days before his 100th birthday.
The longtime North Salem resident celebrated his birthday with his family and friends at a party on Oct. 20 at which he made a wish to blow out all the candles at once.
“I’m pretty content that I’ve got everything,” Kurka said.
A Yonkers native born in 1919, Kurka witnessed the Great Depression, having to walk 2 miles to get a loaf of bread for 10 cents. He remembers he bought his first car in the 1940s, a brand new Chevrolet four-door sedan at a cost of $800.
Following in his elder brother’s footsteps, he joined the Navy in April 1943, four years after World War II broke out. After finishing his military training at Naval Station Great Lakes, Kurka served as a petty officer, second class at Quonset Point, R.I., and as a machinist at the Banana River Naval Air Station in Florida and flew in reconnaissance missions to Cuba and in the Caribbean Sea.
He joined American Legion Post 1866 and served as its vice commander for 35 years.
His service was recognized in Sen. Greg Ball’s Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2014.
The certificate cites “his courage and devotion to duty, honor, and country and enduring commitment to preserve the highest ideals on which America was founded.
Before his retirement in North Salem in 1981, Kurka worked for 32 years at Phelps Dodge as a purchasing director, and for which he spent a couple of years working in Mississippi and Connecticut.
Kurka credits life in North Salem and 68 years of marriage for his longevity.
“It’s a very nice community with good neighbors,” Kurka said.
A year after he was discharged from the Navy, Kurka met his wife Dorothy at a dance in Yonkers. The couple spent years fishing on Peach Lake, golfing at Pehquenakonck Country Club, traveling across the country, dancing on the boardwalk of Atlantic City and watching Mets games at their sweet home on Lakeside Drive. Beyond their three daughters, they have four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Mom always cooked great meals and made sure Dad was well-fed,” said their daughter, Linda Kavanaugh.
After his wife died in 2011, Kurka moved to a senior housing community in Ridgefield, Conn., where he enjoys joins community lunches and chats with his neighbors.
“His health is good. He can still walk 100 feet a day. He dines at Hideaway, one of his favorite restaurants, for mussels and burgers; sometimes he grabs a beer or a glass of wine,” Kavanaugh said. “He would like to go to Empire Casino again where he used to visit once a month.”
Kurka is happy to see his daughters visit every day and looks forward to family reunions on Christmas Eve. He was excited to see his friends in North Salem at his birthday party, especially his former commander, Herb Geller, a fellow veteran and Legion member.
“We wish him to have as many more years as he can with the family and continue in good health so all of his grandkids and great-grandkids can continue to come to visit,” Kavanaugh said.