Beloved usher at St. Patrick Parish, Seneca, is still on duty as he nears 100th birthday

Ann and John Collet give veteran usher Bob Hollenbeck a reason to stop while taking the collection at St. Patrick Church in Seneca on Sept. 8. Hollenbeck, who will celebrate his 100th birthday on Oct. 1, has been an usher there for 63 years. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

SENECA — Over the course of a century, Bob Hollenbeck has done just about everything he’s wanted to do. So what will he wish for when he celebrates his 100th birthday on Oct. 1?

“Two more years,” he replies with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye.

“I’ve had such a good life,” Mr. Hollenbeck said after Mass last Sunday at St. Patrick Church, where he has served as an usher for 63 years.

His daughters, Elaine Wheeler of Madison, Wisconsin, and Patti Meierdirk of St. Charles, will help him celebrate that life with a party for family and friends at the Morris Country Club the last weekend in September. His parish family will continue the celebration with a brunch hosted by the Altar and Rosary Society on Sunday, Oct. 20, after the 9 a.m. Mass.

Mr. Hollenbeck said it has been a life filled with hard work as a carpenter and farmer, as well as music, and his legacy can be felt everywhere in this LaSalle County community.

KEEP GOING

Born on Oct. 1, 1919, and raised in nearby Kinsman, Mr. Hollenbeck helped on the farm with his older brother and younger sister. The family had 160 acres of corn and oats, which was considered a good-sized operation in the early part of the 20th century, he said.

Ever at his post, Bob Hollenbeck accepts a contribution from Gary Kizior as part of the second collection after Mass. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

They did it with eight horses hitched four and four, or five on a two-bottom plow and three on a one-bottom plow, he recalled. There were also four milk cows for their own use.

The Hollenbecks got their first tractor in 1930, and soybeans replaced oats in 1937.

“I liked the lifestyle, so we farmed as a family for 53 years,” he told The Catholic Post. “My wife helped me with the farming.”

He met Mary Evelyn Rosendahl at a dance during the parish festival at Sacred Heart in Kinsman and they fell in love at first sight, he said. They were married for 55 years when cancer took her at age 75.

“That was 23 years ago,” he said reflectively, but the twinkle soon returned. “I didn’t think I’d live so long on my cooking!”

Mr. Hollenbeck also wanted to be a carpenter, a trade he plied for 74 years — many of them while he was still farming. Starting at the age of 17, he would go on to teach 30 apprentices as part of his work with the carpenters union.

“I was a cabinet maker,” he said. “At Seneca High School I built all the trophy cases and there’s a lot of them.”

He also built the bookcases and cabinets in the kitchen at St. Patrick School, where he and Evelyn sent their daughters so they could get a Catholic education. The couple volunteered at the school, too.

The Hollenbecks moved to town in 1956 and that’s when Bob began his long tenure as an usher.

“I keep thinking I should retire. I don’t want to fall on my face,” he said, laughing. “But my girls say, ‘As long as you can do it, keep doing it.’”

The efficiency and speed with which he made it down the aisle at St. Patrick Church left little doubt that the job will be his for as long as he wants it.

HEALTHY FOOD, GOOD HOURS

The third thing the young Bob Hollenbeck wanted to pursue was music, and he did that with two bands he formed.

“I had a little dance band — there was four of us — called the Rhythmaires,” he said, noting that he played guitar and banjo. “We played for the fraternities, like the Moose, the Elks, VFW and the Knights of Columbus. We used to play on New Year’s Eve at the Knights of Columbus in Ottawa.”

Every Saturday night for 25 years they were booked somewhere. His daughter, Patti, played piano accordion with them for two years before she went to college.

For another 40 years, he had the Bob Hollenbeck Rest Home Band.

“We played at seven rest homes,” he said. “We had three or four — whoever I could get to help.”

Mr. Hollenbeck continues to maintain his own home and just passed his driver’s test for another year. He attributes his long life to having healthy food and keeping good hours.

Those who would like to wish him well on his milestone birthday may send cards to his attention to 147 Walnut, Seneca, IL 61360.

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