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90 years young: Ten things to know about Dick Van Dyke

Dick Van Dyke turned 90 years old on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015. To celebrate, he spent the day at Disneyland with wife Arlene Silver Van Dyke. He comingled with chimney sweeps, was paraded about and spent some time chatting with Mary Poppins. He also enjoyed a Mary Poppins-themed flash mob in Los Angeles.

The world-famous celebrity from Danville, Illinois has been lighting up the American television and inspiring the dream-chasers of the world for more than 60 years and his 90 years are most definitely worth celebrating.

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Here are 10 things about Dick Van Dyke you might not know:

1) His acting career started at Danville High School.

Richard "Dick" Van Dyke was a member of an a cappella choir group when he attended Danville High School in the early 1940s. He was also president of the Dramatic Club at DHS and a member of the student council his sophomore year.

"I think I got parts in all of those plays because I had a voice that could be heard in the back row and I was taller than all the girls," Dick Van Dyke told the Commercial-News in a previous interview.

Mary Miller, the DHS Drama teacher, played a big role in Dick's young acting career.

"Mary Miller, she was so encouraging and she put her heart and soul into those plays," he said. "I'll never forget her.

2) His high school buddies were known as the Burfords.

Growing up, Van Dyke had four best friends - Bob Hackman (Gene's uncle), Harry Brown, Jerry Seawright, and Bob Walker - who were known as the Burfords.

"It was my nickname for everybody," he said. "I called everybody Burford, and I don't know why, I just thought it sounded silly. So we formed a club."

Van Dyke said the group liked to get together, sing songs, and goof off.

"I like to be around guys who can make me laugh, "Van Dyke said. "And those guys - they were funny."

"My best buddy was Bob Hackman, Gene's uncle. Gene used to hang around with us and was a lot younger than us, and we used to say to him, 'Why don't you find your own friends?' I saw him years later and said, 'Gene, if I would have known you would have been such a big movie star, I would have been a lot nicer to you,'" Van Dyke said.

3) He is an Air Force veteran.

Just before graduating Danville High School in 1944, Van Dyke joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. His smooth-sailing voice landed him a job as a radio announcer for a military show called "flight time." He never saw combat during WWII.

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"I always wanted a career in television, I always wanted to perform." Van Dyke said. "When I left Danville, there was no television yet, but it was coming."

His military career lasted less than two years.

4) He did a comedy club tour in the 1940s.

Van Dyke decided to hit the road with his buddy Phil Erikson, also a Danville native, to travel around and perform a comedy routine together in 1947. "We got in his old Chevy and drove out to California and did all the night clubs," Van Dyke said.

On stage the two were called the "Merry Mutes."

"We didn't think it would last, we just thought we'd go here and there performing and barnstorm for a while," Van Dyke said.

5) He married his high school sweetheart.

Van Dyke married his high school sweetheart Marjorie Willett in 1948. The two said their "I do's" on the radio show "Bride and Groom."

"They paid for the honeymoon and we got some appliances," Van Dyke said.

The couple moved to Georgia where Van Dyke landed a television show in Atlanta. They had two sons Christian (1950) and Barry (1951), and daughters Stacy (1955) and Carrie Beth (1961).

The couple divorced in 1984. He married makeup artist Arlene Silver in 2012.

6) He started his not-so-smooth television career at CBS.

Van Dyke signed a seven-year contract with CBS in 1955. His first assignment was the host of "The Morning Show" featuring a young news man named Walter Cronkite. Merv Griffin provided the music.

The job was short-lived and he was shuffled around, trying several different formats of the show biz world including talk shows, game shows, children's shows and a pilot. Unfortunately, none of these shows took flight and Van Dyke's contract was cut short after just four years.

7) He has bright, vivid memories of growing up in Danville.

Van Dyke has told the Commercial-News many times that he absolutely loved his childhood in Danville. He paints a very vivid, Mayberry-like picture of growing up in Danville.

He remembers walking with his buddies to Block and Kuhl's, a department store on Vermilion Street, when it was the only place in town with air conditioning. He remembers climbing "the biggest cherry tree ever seen" on Hazel Street and eating cherries until he was sick. He remembers when he and his buddies would walk everywhere they went and when the movies cost 15 cents.

"In those days, no one micromanaged their kids," Van Dyke said. "When school was out, summer was ours. We were barefoot, and would go skinny-dipping in the Vermilion River and we would bicycle out to the lake. Life was just wonderful."

"I think about Danville and I get nostalgic sometimes. I have great memories of Danville," Van Dyke said.

8) He took it upon himself to fix his childhood home.

Van Dyke was very upset to hear his home on Hazel Street in Danville was condemned this June.

"I was sad to hear it," Van Dyke said. "That's where I spent my whole childhood and so did my brother (Jerry Van Dyke). I have a lot of great memories there."

Just three months after he found out the home was condemned , he and his wife, Arlene Silver, decided to take matters into their own hands. Not only did the couple decide to buy the two-story home located at 930 N. Hazel St. that had been abandoned for four years, they plan to restore the home and turn it into a center for the "Dandy Vandy" Dick Van Dyke Foundation. Upon completion, the property will consist of a museum and inspiring garden spaces, such as sculptures and vegetation symbolic to the experience of a young Dick Van Dyke.

9) He's still moving and grooving.

Dick Van Dyke doesn't sit still, even as an now 90-year-old has continued to be a mover and shaker. In fact, he released a book this year called "Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging" where Van Dyke prescribes singing, dancing and lots of laughter to stay young at any age. And he's done just that.

He has guest starred on ABC's "The Middle" this year with his brother Jerry. In July, he was awarded the first Legends Events Lifetime Achievement Award. In October, he hosted a charity art exhibit where he featured Danville speed painter John Jansky. He danced in a music video for the country band Dustbowl Revival. He volunteered to feed the homeless in Malibu on Thanksgiving and has been spotted at various charity events in Malibu throughout 2015.

On Saturday, he hosted a special presentation of "Mary Poppins" on the "Wonderful World of Disney."

10) He always gives back.

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In 1987, Van Dyke made a series of television commercials to raise public awareness of the danger to children when his granddaughter Jessica Van Dyke died from Reye's Syndrome. He is still the National Spokesman of the National Reye's Syndrome Foundation.

For nearly 20 years Van Dyke has been committed to volunteering at Los Angeles' century-old shelter, The Midnight Mission and still volunteers on holidays. In 2010, he was named the first spokesperson for the Cell Therapy Foundation.

This year, he announced the launch of the "Dandy Vandy" Dick Van Dyke Foundation, a center to be based in the historic boyhood home of Dick and Jerry Van Dyke in Danville.

The Dick Van Dyke Foundation will be dedicated to encouraging talented youth to follow their dreams in the entertainment industry, according to a foundation press release. The foundation will provide scholarships, encouragement and support to schools, performing arts groups and accomplished young performers.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story taken from various Commercial-News interviews with Dick Van Dyke.

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