Larry Cheever reaches his milestone birthday this weekend, and the family is planning a big drive-by parade in his honor.
Farming, family, religion and travel have been the mainstays of Larry Cheever’s life — all 100 years of it. And staying active and mentally sharp has contributed to a long and active life for the Winter Garden resident.
The World War II veteran is turning 100 Sunday, Sept. 20, and nothing can keep him down — not even a stroke three months ago. He spoke recently of getting back outside to plant a garden for the winter.
“I’ve always been quite active,” Cheever said.
Before he was drafted into the Army, he hitchhiked to the west coast to pick up agriculture jobs such as shoveling grain and logging.
He snow-skied and ice-skated as a child, took up water-skiing when he moved to Florida and went scuba-diving and parachuting after he turned 70.
While studying for his nursing degree, he started taking piloting lessons. He once bought a mountainside in West Virginia and started a garden; he used to play harmonica and guitar; and he has always loved singing.
He made it his goal to get up on water-skis when he reached 100, but the stroke robbed him of that achievement. However, Cheever still smiles thinking of the full life he has led. In 2011, Humana Active Outlook Magazine featured him, then 91, in an article about aging well. He was photographed driving his tractor, picking and cutting vegetables, carrying in his haul in a wheelbarrow, and swinging an ax.
Cheever was born in Jim Falls, Wisconsin, one of nine children, and grew up on a farm. He had six children of his own — plus 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren — so he always has been surrounded by large families.
Religion has played an integral part of Cheever’s life for decades. He is a devout Seventh-day Adventist who was instrumental in getting the Winter Garden Seventh-day Adventist Church built. He established two other churches in West Virginia as well.
In fact, he was chastised for his beliefs when he was drafted into the U.S. Army at age 22. He originally was assigned to the 451st AAA Battalion, but he objected to carrying a gun and refused to go against the Sabbath. He went weeks without a paycheck because he would not pick up his pay on a Saturday.
Cheever found his true calling after he was transferred to the medic division, and he built a career out of nursing and anesthesiology. During the war, he served in multiple battles and campaigns: Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. He was awarded the Bronze Star medal for helping save two people from a mine field.
Growing up on a farm in Wisconsin prepared Cheever for a lifetime of farming and gardening.
“I raised a garden everywhere I’ve been from the time I was a boy,” he said.
While serving in Belgium during the war, he planted a garden, even knowing he wouldn’t be there to enjoy the produce.
When Cheever returned to the states, one of his superiors told him he needed to get his education instead of going back home and working on the farm for the rest of his life. He had quit school in the eighth grade to work on the family farm in Wisconsin.
He took the suggestion and moved to Tennessee, finished his high school education and eventually earned his nursing and anesthesiology degrees.
But gardening was never too far from his reach.
When he and Lois spent their summers in West Virginia, he always had a productive garden. During a successful gardening season, Cheever was canning more than 20 jars a day of his produce. He had his own orange groves too and always had plenty of citrus.
“I’m still working in the garden,” he said.
He’s been thinking about what he wants to put in his next garden, maybe greens, onions and tomatoes.
Besides gardening, touring the country and the world also has played an important role in Cheever’s life.
“I love to travel; that’s one of my joys,” Cheever said. “I’ve traveled quite a lot.”
Family vacations were a staple for the Cheevers — Larry, Lois and their six children traveled all over the United States. Cheever and his wife traveled to Europe after they retired, and he revisited some of the locations he was stationed at in the 1940s.
Packing a suitcase and hopping on a plane became commonplace for Cheever and his wife. They toured the country’s memorials, historical sites and national parks. They visited the Honduras to build a school and again during a cruise, as well as Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France and Lichtenstein.
After 70 years of marriage, Lois passed away in 2018. Cheever got a yellow rose bush in memory of his “Texas rose,” and he planted it in a sunny spot so he can see it often and think of her.