The 94-year-old Sonata West resident believes in setting good examples, having a positive attitude and walking in faith.
Fred Jennings is 94 years old, but his health and energy level suggest he is half that age. He greets each day with a positive attitude — something he has always done. He goes on walks with his dog, a friendly and excited terrier named Buddy, and they have been known to circle the nearby pond several times each day.
Jennings and Buddy are residents of Sonata West, an independent-living community in Winter Garden. He has been named a Healthy Hometown Hero for his healthy lifestyle, but for Jennings, it’s a matter of deciding to make the most of each day.
“We all have to set an example; my wife and I were firm believers in that. She believed that you are what you believe, and we walked the faith. And that sums the whole thing up.”
Born in St. Louis in 1924, Jennings and his wife, Evelyn, lived 31 years in the Windermere area before moving to Winter Garden. The couple was married 71 years before she passed away in 2016 at the age of 91.
The Jenningses took up running — eventually building up to marathons — after their retirement. It started when Fred went for a jog with their daughter; Evelyn decided she wanted to run, too. They joined a runners club, and eventually they finished their first marathon.
“From then on, we couldn’t stop,” Jennings said. “We traveled to five or six states for marathons. We ran the Marine Corps Marathon, and we qualified for the Boston Marathon.”
“You have to set an example. … and you walk by faith in what you do.”
— Fred Jennings
While participating in a race in Lincoln, Neb., Jennings said, a man running his first race asked to keep pace alongside him. When they saw the finish line in the distance, Jennings encouraged the man to take off toward it.
“I saw him afterward; he thanked me and said he wouldn’t have finished without me,” he said. “That made me feel good. If I can set a good example, that’s what it’s all about.”
Jennings has lived his life according to the U.S. Marine Corps motto, which means “always faithful.”
For Jennings, that has always meant being faithful to his faith, his country and his marriage.
When he turned 18, he enlisted in the military because he didn’t want to be drafted and found himself serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was assigned to a headquarters office and tasked with supplying Marines before they were transported to the islands for combat.
He returned home after three years but was recalled for the Korean War, where he spent seven months overseas.
“I learned two things from all of that: discipline and obedience,” Jennings said. “You can’t make it without it. There were always people who said, ‘I’m going to die for my country.’ … I say, ‘Live for your country.’
“It was quite an experience, and I learned from that,” he said. “A lot of people’s lives depend on you.”
He said he believes in the value of human life, including his own.
“That just changed my attitude,” he said. “I do have value left. It goes right back to (this): You have to set an example, and you walk by faith in what you do. I’m thankful that I can honestly say I know where I’m going when I go home. That’s the most eventful day that I have to look forward to.”
Jennings attends Resurrection Catholic Church, in Winter Garden, and volunteers once a month at its preschool.
He admits his initial thought was, “Why would a 4-year-old have any relationships with a 94-year-old man?”
“But these little 4-year-olds love me,” he said. “They want to sit on your lap. I was just overwhelmed with this joy and love that they show me. It’s a pleasure to sit there for about an hour. … It inflates your ego. It’s the gift of love.”
Buddy also has taught Jennings about love.
“I took him (to a dog park) and let him loose, and they have the greatest time,” Jennings said. “I sit there and am just amazed at how these very different dogs get along. And I look at them and think, ‘Why can’t people get along like that?’ That’s an example of living. Love one another. Buddy, he just loves people.”
Contrary to what some senior citizens believe, Jennings said, he doesn’t think he has moved to a retirement home to die. His life is full — he spends his days taking walks, going to Sonata’s fitness room, eating healthy, making new friends and reading.
“Why give up when you get old?” he said. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. And again, walk by faith. If you don’t have faith, you’re not going to make it. … I’m thankful for everything.”