George Palmer shares 106 years of memories

George Palmer, 106, with an old photograph of his family in 1920 as they set off on a 90-day adventure west to Oregon from Ohio. (Photo by Diana Giraldo)

George Palmer has seen 106 years of American history through his bright blue-brown eyes.

Born in 1909, Palmer grew up during the days of early automobiles, served in World War II, and saw the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry.

At 106, Palmer’s life experience is far from over, as he continues spend his days involved in the community. An avid believer of learning and living life in moderation, Palmer participates in the Clovis Senior Center’s painting classes and stays physically active, walking at least a quarter of a mile every day.

Palmer was born in Portsmouth, Ohio where his father worked as a railroad man.

In 1920, when Palmer was 12, he and his family headed west. With the family’s belongings rolled up in a white bedsheet tied to the front right fender of their vehicle, they started a 90-day journey.

“It was winter time and rainy and there was mud hole after mud hole after mud hole.” Palmer said. “Since the automobile was new, many roads were only paved to the edge of town and from there on there were only dirt roads.”

When the family arrived in the little town of Hood River, Oregon, Palmer’s father met an old friend who suggested the family should stay in town because it was “a good place to raise a family.”

Palmer lived next to flowing rivers and snowcapped mountains he would spend hours exploring as a he grew into a young man.

After graduating high school, Palmer decided he wanted to be a pharmacist, but without the financial resources to continue his education, he decided to enter the workforce taking odd jobs here and there.

“To get the money well, I did all kinds of jobs,” Palmer said. “I went out to eastern Oregon and harvested, during the summers I would go out and put out forest fires, I’d do anything to pick up some money to go back to school.”

Working at 35 cents an hour, Palmer saved for two years before enrolling into Oregon State as a pharmacy major.

“My dad said, ‘When you go to school you ought to be a pharmacist because they make 100 percent profit on everything they sell,’” Palmer said. “It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that wasn’t true.”

After he graduated from pharmacy school, Palmer worked in Eugene, Oregon, next to the University of Oregon for six years until he was drafted into the Army during WWII.

“I was the one of the first guys drafted out of Eugene, Oregon,” Palmer said.

He was sent to Fort Scott outside of San Francisco.

“I stayed there the summer and apparently there wasn’t going to be a war so they sent all of us draftees home,” Palmer recalled. “We got home and then about a month later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Then they called me back.”

After serving his time at Forts Scott, Palmer decided he did not want to be an infantryman and joined the Navy as a pharmacist.

Palmer recalls his scariest moment in the war was as a Gunnery Officer on a Merchant Marine Ship.

“I was on the back end of the ship and out of the corner of my eye I saw a streak through the water and I thought ‘Oh man,’” Palmer said. “I was paralyzed and I couldn’t move or anything. I thought that was a torpedo, but it turned out to be a fish of some kind.”

Once the war ended Palmer moved to Fresno and bought into Star Pharmacy, which was located in the Tower District and later Blackstone Pharmacy, both of which have since closed.

He then opened his own pharmacy – Ashlyn Pharmacy.

“In the old days pharmacists and doctors had very few drugs that were worth anything and it wasn’t until penicillin came in that there were any drugs in pharmacy that were really legitimate,” Palmer explained. “Then all the medicine people had been using for hundreds of years all went out of the window.”

In Palmer’s early pharmacy years he practiced compound pharmacy.

“In other words the doctor would send what he wanted and he had to mix it up and make creams and put them in little jars or mix all the powders and fill up capsules,” detailed his son-in-law, Gary Stratton.

At 89 years old, Palmer retired with more than 40 years of pharmaceutical experience.

Outside of his career, Palmer has enjoyed life as an avid golfer, gardener and reader. After retirement he resumed all these favored hobbies and also began learning to paint.

“I think it’s a huge key to why he is where he is at today because he has never stopped learning,” said his daughter Evie Loutherback.

Palmer says he has no secret for longevity except to live life in moderation.

“Do everything in moderation. Don’t try too hard for too long, I always tried to stay in my capacity,” Palmer said. “I just want to keep on living like I am, healthy, without pain, and with good people around me and that’s what makes me happy.”