ENCINITAS — As Fred Schneider used a walker to stroll into the town hall at Belmont Village in Cardiff, singer Cowboy Jack strummed his guitar and greeted him with a joke.
“Are you sure you’re 103?” he said, as more than 50, mostly silver-haired seniors laughed and smiled. “We’re gonna have to card him.”
The crowd was gathered to celebrate Schneider’s 103rd birthday. The man known for his gregarious personality, smile, devotional outlook and pocket full of candy at his local Baptist church, received a vintage celebration that hearkened back to his youthful days.
He got to ride twice around the main entrance of the retirement community in a 1927 Ford Model T, the first car he rode to school in 1932. Cowboy Jack and the crowd sang some of his favorite songs, including “You Are My Sunshine” and “Amazing Grace,” and the Arthur Murray Solana Beach studio dancers performed to the music.
Belmont Village organized the celebration for the active senior community’s oldest resident. Schneider moved into the community two years ago after suffering a broken femur and a mild heart attack in a fall.
Family and friends said they couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of such a party.
Born on Feb. 28, 1915 in Detroit, Kansas, Schneider was one of nine children raised in a farming community with a population of 250.
He moved to California in 1936 and took a job at Farmer’s Brothers Coffee where he stayed until his retirement 43 years later as plant manager.
Schneider has been active in the Encinitas community after moving here with his wife in 1979, when he retired. His wife passed away in 2004, and he remarried a close friend several years later.
Nancy Folia, the wife of the pastor at Ranch View Baptist Church, said that he’s still active in the church, where everyone loves him.
Folia relayed a story about what happens when Schneider shows up to church, sometimes a little late. “It is amazing … Everyone will say ‘Hi, Fred,’ and wait for him to walk in. I mean, everybody loves him,” she said. “Last week, he started giving candy to (her son) Ryan, and my husband said, ‘Let’s just stop the service and if you want candy, go see Fred.’ I mean, he’s part of our family, we love him so much.”
Folia turned to her children, Nicole and Ryan, and asked them what “Grandpa Fred” always says.
“We love, we care, we share God’s love,” they said in unison.
“He is such a sweet man,” Folia said.
Fred’s son Doug also made the trip from near Scottsdale, Arizona, to the party. Doug brought a toy tractor his father made out of a plastic motor oil bottle. It was one of his hobbies.
When asked what his father’s secret was, Doug said it was his dad’s positive outlook.
“He never met a day that he wasn’t happy to be in,” Doug said. “It’s the power of positive thinking, and I don’t think it’s hurt that he’s a little narcissistic. He’s very proud of himself.”
Doug said the latter part in jest.
The younger Schneider said he feared for his father’s life when he fell, as his grandfather — Fred’s dad — died at age 94 during surgery to repair a broken hip.
“You can imagine what was going through his mind,” he said. “But he’s pulled through.”