Glenwood’s youngest centenarian
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – One of Julian Vogt’s more immediate concerns these days is trying to determine what his exercise regimen will be once the weather warms up for his 100th summer on Earth.
“I feel very good, most of the time,” said Vogt, who turns 100 today.
Vogt, who lives high up on the sunny side of the Roaring Fork River canyon, talked with the Post Independent recently about his life and times around the world, and about his view of the future.
He still lives in the house that he and his wife, Anne, moved into in 1971, after touring the West to find a place to settle down following his retirement.
He recently suffered a bout of pneumonia that put him into a nursing home until he got restless, he said, and “pulled a few strings to get out.” He is still wrestling with the aftermath of the illness.
Anne, who suffered a stroke in 1997, has lived in a nursing home since 2006. He visits her daily at Grace Health Care of Glenwood Springs to play familiar music for her and help with her exercises, and remains devoted to her.
On his own for much of the time these days, Vogt works at feeling good, though perhaps the term “work” does not exactly apply to the workouts he thrives on.
He is an avid, if cautious skier and snowboarder at Sunlight Mountain Resort, where he is a well-known favorite, and until last year, he enjoyed ice skating at the Community Center. And he has a regular summertime workout scheme that has involved swimming laps at the Hot Springs Pool and rollerblading to Two Rivers Park.
Besides all that, he does much of his own yard work at his home.
“I have all the work I need right up here,” he told a reporter with a broad grin, describing how he trims a set of trees each year in his backyard, among other chores.
In fact, he confided, he recently frightened his physical therapist when he described to her how he cut a tree down to a stump last year, “standing on a loose rock and teetering a bit, with a chainsaw in my hands.”
“I’m going to give first priority to my health,” he declared, adding that he looks at life one day at a time.
“My goal is not numbers, my goal is just to do the best I can,” he mused, explaining that turning 100 is all right with him, particularly as he will be surrounded by family for the next couple of weeks.
“I think that reaching 100 is better than reaching 99, but not as good as reaching 101,” he joked.
Vogt has lived a peripatetic life, starting when he was still in his mother’s womb.
His parents, who lived in Kentucky, visited the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. There, they saw apples grown in a California farming town of only a few hundred souls named Julian, which also happened to be his mother’s maiden name.
The coincidence of names struck a chord with them, and they moved to San Diego, which is near Julian, a scant two weeks before he was born on April 20, 1911.
A year later, the young family moved to Julian, where Vogt spent his childhood. The family moved back to San Diego so he could attend a better high school.
Vogt graduated high school in 1928, shortly after Charles Lindbergh made his historic trans-Atlantic crossing by plane.
He responded to the growing interest in air travel by going to school for aeronautical engineering and, ultimately, learning to fly in a glider. But that, he said, “was about the end of my flying.”
He went to school in Tucson, Ariz., for a time, but transferred to University of Colorado at Boulder in 1932 to escape the Arizona heat. He earned his keep in Boulder by working as a waiter and a house boy at a sorority.
“I never did get friendly with the girls,” he claimed. “Well, maybe one or two.”
Studying French and geology during the school terms, he worked for the U.S. Park Service at Yellowstone National Park in the summers, and he recalled learning as much on the job as he did in classes.
Vogt transferred to the University of California at Berkeley in 1934, where his record of hard work at Yellowstone lead to a similar job at Yosemite. He graduated from Berkeley in 1941 with a double major in English and biology.
During his years at Berkeley, he joined the International House, a system of student centers founded by Harry Edmonds and supported by industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Through the urging and help of a Uruguayan girlfriend he met at I-House, he said, he won a fellowship to study national park systems in South America.
Traveling by boat from the eastern United States, he went through the Panama Canal and down the western coast of South America to Santiago, Chile, and then by train to Argentina. His trip came just as the rest of the world exploded into World War II.
Vogt couldn’t serve in the military for health reasons. But his younger brother, John H.L. Vogt, Jr., did serve, and was among those killed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Vogt spent several years traveling around South America, working in various capacities, meeting with local parks officials and visiting some of the stunning natural wonders of the continent.
He also visited Bariloche, Argentina, where he met an exiled White Russian who had fled following the Russian Revolution to avoid persecution by the victorious Communists, and was running the Argentinean national park service.
“He wanted Hitler to win [World War II], but he didn’t like Hitler,” Vogt recalled. “But he liked the Russians less.”
Although Vogt was offered a job as a ski instructor at Bariloche, he said, he opted for a stint working for the U.S. State Department in Asuncion, Paraguay, starting in 1943.
“I thought it was more positive, more of a contribution” to international affairs than simply getting drafted into the military, he said.
While in South America, Vogt practiced the philosophy that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
“I tried to be a local wherever I’d go,” he explained, learning the language and any local dialects he could.
Over the years, besides speaking French, he picked up a working knowledge of Spanish, Portuguese and even Russian.
Learning Russian came when, in late 1945 or so, he headed back to the U.S. to find work. He ended up as a secretary for the United Nations mission in Byelorussia (now Belarus), in the Soviet Union, which at the time was shifting from being an ally to an enemy of the U.S.
“We were considered spies,” he said of that job, explaining that the outpost was far from the nearest town, Minsk, and the United Nations employees were watched constantly by the KGB and police.
Again, he traveled a lot, seeing Moscow, Kiev and St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), until he got to the point where “my Russian was pretty good.”
He saw the Bolshoi ballet perform “Don Quixote,” and the Kirov ballet perform Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades.”
By 1947, he said, he became interested in living in the Soviet Union, perhaps teaching English while improving his Russian. But the Soviets wanted him to defect, so he gave up the idea and moved away.
Seeking another U.N. job, in 1947 he made his way to the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. That’s where he met his future wife, Anne, a Swiss native, while both were standing in line at a consular office, waiting to get travel visas.
They were married within a year and moved to Germany, where he worked for the U.S. Army before transferring to the State Department to run the America House in Darmstadt, in what was then West Germany.
The young couple was living in Darmstadt when the Berlin Airlift began in 1948, after the Soviets had cut off railroad access to the Allied-controlled sectors in Berlin, which was then the East German capital city.
The Vogts were evacuated as a precaution, and were nearly separated, Julian said, by a bitter German public health nurse who held up Anne’s health papers to prevent Anne from relocating to the U.S.
The couple was forced to spend an unexpected year in Europe, during which time Anne had their first child, Carl, and Julian went back to work for the U.S. Army.
Finally able to return to the U.S. in 1951, the couple welcomed an additional son, Michael, and lived in Silver Springs, Md. for five years. They then moved to Spain, when he took a job with the U.S. State Department’s cultural office there.
“We had some of the best years of our marriage in Spain,” Vogt recalled fondly.
Other postings followed until, in 1971, he retired from the State Department, and they lived for a short time in Virginia.
But after a visit to see relatives in Hawaii, the couple rented a car in California and set off on a tour of the West to find a new place to settle down, a place near mountains for the skiing and near a college for the intellectual stimulation.
After veering from Arizona to New Mexico and then to Salt Lake City, the couple ended up in Glenwood Springs and, finding it met all their desires, moved here.
They would travel back to Europe yearly so Anne could visit her family, and the pair of them occasionally took classes in such divergent topics as the German language or Austrian literature.
Vogt has dabbled in local politics occasionally, and has some firm opinions about such issues as immigration laws and population control, upon which he will gladly expound if given the chance.
In fact, after nearly three hours of conversation with a reporter, he apologized for being verbose.
“I feel like I’ve talked too much, and you haven’t said enough about yourself,” he said to the reporter. “I like to hear people talk about their own lives when I meet them.”
Then, after a pause, he conceded, “Oh, but you came here to hear me talk, didn’t you? So it’s your own fault.”
And he grinned shyly as he said it.
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