Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 1:51 am | Fair 53º


Local News

106-Year-Old Leonard Cruess Attributes Long Life to Love of Family

Goleta resident is still going strong, with a daily routine that includes exercise, the Catholic Rosary and his signature drink

Leonard Cruess is a guy who has it all, and he knows it.

The Goleta resident, who turned 106 years old on Wednesday, is supremely healthy — enough to do his exercises every day, albeit with a walker he calls his “buggy” — and even has a substantial swath of silvery hair crowning his head. But Cruess says the real reason he has it all is his family.

He lives with his oldest daughter, Julie, at her home in Goleta, and once you walk in the door, you know this family has something special.

The halls are lined with dozens of family photos, including Cruess’ dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His youngest great-grandchild, Brennan, who is nearly a year old, is playing on the floor of the family’s living room as Cruess sits in his chair, keeping an eye on him.

“I love every one of them; they’re all such good kids,” Cruess said of his children and their children. And it’s clear they all adore him.

Granddaughter Meghan Pelphrey of Oregon, mother of Brennan, comes in and tells Cruess a joke, and then kisses him on the forehead before leaving the room again.

Cruess has become something of a mini-celebrity. Each year he gets a little older, a handful of reporters sits down with him, mining him for nuggets of wisdom and the secrets of his long life.

For Cruess’ birthday, the family celebrated in their traditional way: a noon Mass at St. Raphael Catholic Church followed by lunch — always at Sizzler, and Cruess always orders the shrimp dinner.

When this reporter covered Cruess’ 104th birthday two years ago, he was asked what advice he had, responding, “Trust in God, and all others, cash.” Two years later, he’s still full of zingers and mentally sharper than people half his age.

Pelphrey often plays word scramble games with him, but she writes the letters larger so he can read them, and Cruess has a great track record.

He’s a bit hard of hearing and has trouble with his eyesight, but he still reads the headlines religiously every morning, because the text of the story is too small for him to see. In fact, Cruess just stopped golfing last week, and he still holds the record for 165 holes-in-one at his former retirement home, Encina Royale, where he lived for 37 years.

Cruess moved to Santa Barbara in the early 1950s, “for the most beautiful girl in the world,” he says. His wife, Cecilia, wanted to move to the West Coast from their home in Connecticut.

“I was excited to come to California,” he said.

The Cruesses had seven children while they lived in Connecticut. When they decided to make the move, the three youngest of the clan came with, and the older children remained in college. They left everything, including the only livelihood Cruess had ever known: running the family’s grocery business, where he was a meat cutter.

Cruess says he was baptized in ‘04 as a Roman Catholic, and lest you think he’s a recent convert, he means 1904 — the year he was born. He says his faith has played a huge role throughout his life. He still says the Rosary twice daily, and the afternoon prayer is always followed by his signature drink — a highball, with 4 ounces of Canadian whiskey.

“I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to,” he said. “I’m ready to pass on. ... God’s been so good to me my whole life.”

His daughter reveals one of his morning routines by pulling a can of tomatoes with a worn label out of the cupboard. It serves as a weight for Cruess, who faithfully does his rehabilitation exercises every day. He tripped over a garden hose while working in his garden six years ago, breaking his hip and elbow, and uses the weight every day.

Each night, his daughters, Julie and Jo, who conveniently lives next door, say goodnight and tuck him into bed at 8:30 p.m.

“They’re good tuckers,” he says with the assurance of a man who’s got it all. “I’ve had a wonderful life.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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