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From dime stores to a world war: Celebrating 100 years of Leo

Leo S. Marczynski, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, is shown in a photo taken during his time served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II from 1942 to 1946. (Photo courtesy of John Kraft)

MARQUETTE — From being a dime-store manager to serving in World War II, 100-year-old Leo S. Marczynski, who resides at Mill Creek Senior Living Community in Marquette, said his “good upbringing” has kept him patient and compassionate over the years.

“We all want to end up in a good place. Learn to get along with everybody. Have a tender heart. Be decent with people,” Marczynski said, giving advice to the younger generation. “If more people were like me, we would have less problems.”

The youngest of seven children, Marczynski was born on April 5, 1920, and grew up in Lansing. Marczynski worked in a bakery business and after graduating from Lansing Central High School in 1938, he worked his way up to management for the dime store D & C Stores in Lansing and Grand Ledge.

Shortly after Marczynski got married in 1942, he was drafted in World War II.

Out of all of his life experiences, WWII was the one that changed the course of his life, he said, noting it was the first time he ever ventured out of the state of Michigan. Marczynski attended basic

training at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks with the great Joe Louis, a famed American boxer, he said. After joining the U.S. Army Air Corps, he served in England until 1946.

Returning home from WWII, Marcyznski picked up his managing position D&C Stores until he retired in 1983. He raised four children: three daughters and one son, with his wife Fern, whom he met before WWII when he was an assistant manager and she worked a position at the store. The two were married for just short of 75 years and had four grandchildren.

In the course of just a few years, Marcyznski lost one of his daughters to cancer and then Fern Marcyznski passed away two years ago.

Last year, the 100-year-old father also lost his son Steve, who was autistic and developmentally disabled, to influenza A.

His oldest daughter, Suzanne Kraft, who moved to the Upper Peninsula back in 1983 from Ross, Michigan, with her husband John Kraft, have been taking care of Marcyznski since he moved to Mill Creek two years ago.

Though the first year at a new residence was challenging, especially with a great deal of personal loss, Marczynski adjusted to his life as good as one could, Suzanne Kraft said. She said his independence keeps him going and he tells his family that he doesn’t want to go back to Lansing.

“He’s one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. He can meet a total stranger and make conversation with them without any trouble at all,” John Kraft said.

What keeps the 100-year-old WWII veteran and dime store manager going after all of these years?

When asked, he replied by saying that he never was a drinker or smoker, and he loved square dancing with his wife and traveling in his Airstream trailer. But he also prays every night, he added.

“The Lord has blessed me. (I’m) very fortunate and very lucky,” he said. “I think a lot about other people and how grateful I am for what I have.”

With the current lockdown situation, Marczynski’s big 100-year birthday celebration plans were canceled, but Mill Creek and his family still celebrated with balloons and signs.

With hardly any health troubles, Marczynski may sometimes walk with a cane but only if he feels dizzy.

“My eyesight is going, my hearing is going, but I have my own teeth,” he said.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.

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