George Beck has had a century’s worth of life experiences, growing up during the Great Depression, working on radar during World War II and living in Iran during one phase of a long career.
He never could’ve imagined being stuck indoors while celebrating his 100th birthday, with neighbors, friends and family serenading him from outside, at a forced, safe distance.
That was the scene at Beck’s Carroll Lutheran Village residence in Westminster on Tuesday, when Beck turned 100. His lawn had already been decorated with birthday signage by the time well-wishers walked or drove over in the early afternoon to congratulate Beck, many singing “Happy Birthday” as he stood on his porch and waved.
“It went very well,” said Beck, noting that he was surprised. “About 20 or 30 people showed up and sang 'Happy Birthday’ in the wind and rain.”
The smaller, separated celebration was in place of a larger planned gathering that had to be pushed back because of social distancing and crowd size regulations established because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, it was a nice surprise for the now-centenarian.
Beck was born April 21, 1920 in Ravenna, Ohio, and graduated from what is now Cleveland State University in 1943.
He said he enlisted in the Army because he thought it was the right thing to do. While in the military, Beck worked on radar and missiles. Beck later worked as an electrical engineer.
“Technology is good for people and for the country. Being an engineer, I like technology,” said Beck. “My father was an electrician on a railroad and I did a lot of electrical work as a contractor.”
Beck said he had also worked on a railroad station and simply decided it would be a good idea to study engineering. He said radar was one of his favorite technical advances because of his work on it in the military.
Beck has called a number of places home.
He settled in Niagara Falls after the war, moved to California in 1958 then to Michigan in 1960 and to Catonsville in 1962. Beck even lived in Iran from 1976 to 1979. He said living in California was his favorite, because of the weather.
Beck said he moved to Carroll County 15 years ago after marrying his wife, Patricia, and moved into Carroll Lutheran Village.
“We like Carroll County, we like the rural atmosphere,” said Beck. “One thing we like about living in Westminster and advantage is we get out in the country very quickly.”
In his 100 years, Beck said he never experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I grew up during the Depression and I thought the Depression was pretty bad but this is a lot worse,” said Beck. “I always thought the worst thing ever experienced was living through, as a young person, and growing up in the Depression back in the late 1930s and ’40s before World War II but this is the worst that I’ve seen.
"There are more people unemployed now than there were during the Depression. The economy didn’t shut down the way it has done now.”
Carroll County Breaking News
Late last month, Gov. Larry Hogan issued a stay-a-home order in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. That has kept Marylanders inside to avoid the risk of contracting the virus.
Beck said he is handling being stuck at home fairly well by passing the time with sketches in pen or pencil and reading almost anything, from books to newspapers and magazines.
“It hasn’t affected me too much, I’m just learning to do things inside, like cleaning up this, cleaning up that; doing a lot of reading, doing a lot of drawing and keeping busy,” said Beck.
Beck advises future generations to get a good education, study hard, and pay attention to what’s happening in your country.
In his 100 years, Beck said his greatest accomplishment was having a good marriage and raising a good family. Beck is the father of four children, one of whom is deceased, the grandfather of 12 and the great-grandfather of 11.
And his secret to longevity?
“I think part of it is in the genes because my father lived to be 96," Beck said. “But stay very active, get a lot of exercise, eat properly, [and take it easy on the alcohol. But mostly it’s staying active, thinking positively.”