106 years and counting

Tupper’s John Amoriell recalls a long life of memories

John Amoriell, the oldest man in Tupper Lake, sits in a room of the Adirondack Health’s Mercy Living Center that he used to clean when it was an operating room in a hospital. He now lives in the nursing home, and after 106 years of traveling around the East Coast, he is happy to spend his centennial years in his hometown.
(Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

John Amoriell, the oldest man in Tupper Lake, sits in a room of the Adirondack Health’s Mercy Living Center that he used to clean when it was an operating room in a hospital. He now lives in the nursing home, and after 106 years of traveling around the East Coast, he is happy to spend his centennial years in his hometown. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — The oldest resident of this village, John Amoriell, turned 106 on the last day of 2017.

Amoriell, born in 1911 on Washington Street, lived all across New York and Florida in his more than a century on Earth, but moved back to Tupper Lake, his favorite place on the planet, where he now resides at Adirondack Health’s Mercy Living Center. Amoriell worked in maintenance at the nursing home back when it was a hospital before retiring on his 80th birthday.

Tuesday morning, in the former operating room, he recalled a time when he worked on the railroad, cigarettes cost 10 cents a carton and all the buildings were made of wood.

Amoriell has seen a transformative period in American history, witnessing two world wars, the explosive growth and gradual decline of the Tupper Lake population, and countless changes in society.

Times were hard for the Amoriell family when he was growing up as the Great Depression left few jobs in the logging town. Leaving his education, he took a job at the Winter Playhouse, a shelter built by the federal Public Works Administration as part of then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program. He cooked everything from beef to pies for $1 a day, the going rate for labor at the time.

Though he never finished school, you would never know it. He educated himself, expanding his vocabulary through crossword puzzles, learning history from people he knew and picking up New York geography by traveling all over the state.

From 1936 to 1969, Amoriell was working on the railroad — the New York Central, to be specific. He traveled through Syracuse, Utica, Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady, inspecting lines and plowing tracks.

“I was on the go, on the go all the time,” Amoriell said.

He attributes his days walking miles of track in temperatures as cold as minus 60 to his lasting health and lengthy life. Amoriell said he always loved the outdoors, spending many long days hiking, clearing trails and hunting in the 375 acres of land his family owned between Mosquito Pond and Mud Pond.

He shot many partridge and rabbits in his 87 years of hunting, even hitting a bear between the eyes once. But there was always one beast that eluded his aim.

“I’ve been hunting since I was 19 years old; I never got a deer,” Amoriell said. “I missed a lot of them. I didn’t care, because I like the woods.”

Amoriell was wed in 1937 to Mildred Exware, having two children with her and 73 years of marriage until she died in 2010 at Mercy Living Center. Amoriell now has three grandchildren and a great-grandson.

He said he never expected to find himself living such a long life. He was always active, installing the roof on his house and digging his cellar with his father-in-law, but did not necessarily focus on his health in an attempt to reach old age. For decades he smoked Chesterfields, cigars and a pipe, and he chewed tobacco while he worked on the New York Central.

“You tell me what the secret is, I don’t know,” Amoriell said. “Keep living.”

Long lives seem to run in the Amoriell family; John’s grandmother lived to be 103. Amoriell said he thought he wouldn’t make it to 101, then 102, then 103. He doesn’t think he will make it to 107, but with 360 days left as of today, and a clean bill of health from his doctor, he may prove himself wrong once again.

With a raspy voice, kind eyes and a conversational attitude, Amoriell is as spry as you could hope anyone who has lived 106 years to be. Though he lives in a nursing home, he still does most things himself, refusing help when getting out of bed in the morning, going to the bathroom and traveling through the center and around town.

“I’m a stubborn old man,” Amoriell said.

Amoriell cannot walk anymore but stays mobile with a wheelchair. He now exercises his mind with crossword puzzles, sitting in the hallway where he can see everyone passing through.

He said when his time comes, he is ready to die. He is glad he has been able to spend his twilight years in his hometown.

“If I get bad, leave me alone,” Amoriell said. “I was born here; I’m going to die here.”

After a wild childhood of working the rails across New York, decades of walking in the Adirondack forests and years of living in Florida, Amoriell is happy winding up back where he started 106 years ago, in Tupper Lake.