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My dad at 96: Spot on, just a little tired

November 1, 2016 GMT

My dad, who lives in Chicago, turned 96 yesterday. His mind is as sharp as a tack. He uses his luxurious scooter to get around his independent and assisted-living center building. And he is looking forward to his upcoming family celebration brunch on Sunday. Of course, we’re planning to attend.

I didn’t think a party was going to happen this year, and dad hadn’t said much about it. But my youngest brother, Randy, wanted to be sure we marked these very special occasions, because these days one never knows from year to year what may happen.

The crowd will be a bit smaller than dad’s 95th last year. There will be just 16 of us. Last year’s group was 60-plus people, and dad orchestrated a memorable evening bash along with Randy and my sister-in-law Chris. Dad loves a party, no matter how many attend.

My dad, whom we still refer to affectionately as Chester the Tester, began his career as a mechanical engineer and was a graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology. During the ’40s and early ’50s, Dad and his dad built a strong woodworking machinery and equipment business, and I remember going with my dad on a few business trips to exotic places like Rockford, Ill., and Akron, Ohio. It was fun because it was just dad and me.

In the mid-’50s, thanks to the genius of my Uncle Stan, who sadly passed away at 39 from Hodgkin’s disease and a heart attack, Dad jumped on the bandwagon of a new business area, package testing, and he quickly became one of the pioneers of the package testing field. Working closely with my grandfather, a brilliant engineer and designer, Dad carved the foundation for Gaynes Testing Laboratories from a small area in his factory on Fulton Street in Chicago and built it into a major force in the testing industry.

Over the next six decades, his innovative testing procedures and data resulted in the more-effective and high- quality manufacturing or improvement of many new products by Dad’s clients, many nationally and internationally known, whose products he tested with Gaynes testing equipment.

An outstanding engineer and businessman, Dad’s reputation is still widely known throughout the testing industry, and he was responsible for developing and writing many of the testing standards that are still regulating the packaging industry today. He and my mom, who passed away in 2012, worked together to build the National Testing Society and coordinate its annual conference.

Dad would have probably worked into his 90s, were it not for a horrific fire in the mid-1990s that destroyed the entire factory. The experience of seeing everything you’ve worked for destroyed was tough on Dad, but as he was making his decision to retire, he never lost contact with the men who had worked side-by-side with him. He was so highly respected by these men that they approached him soon after the fire, said they wanted to rebuild, keep the name Gaynes Laboratories and pay him back for keeping the name alive.

The three partners provided an office for Dad in their new lab, and only when driving long distances became a problem did he opt to work off site and watch their success from afar. The business continues, and Dad still provides advice when he can.

After fighting a bout with fluid buildup in his legs two years ago, which hospitalized Dad, we wondered whether he would return to his condo in Florida last winter with his girlfriend, Bernice, and his caregiver, Dan. But they did spend three wonderful months enjoying the condo, probably for the last time. Dad had made some improvements, like a walk-in shower, so the place was very cheery.

Dad has always been an avid reader, and during his stay in Florida, I sent several books from our bookstore, which Dad devoured. But lately, his eyes haven’t been the best, so my book services have tapered off a bit. My youngest brother, who lives in Winnetka, a Chicago suburb, said Dad hasn’t been reading a lot and he tires pretty easily these days. Fortunately, our brunch is planned for the morning on Sunday, so Dad should be wide awake.

When I called earlier in the week to wish Dad a healthy new year, he said he was looking forward to everyone’s visit. As we hung up, I smiled and reflected on how lucky our family has been to have Dad for so long.

We’re hoping for 97 and beyond, Dad. We wish you many more and we love you.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.