Lou Frederick and Dr. Henry Corn know more than a thing or two about life.
After all, these gentlemen have lived more than a century. Both recently celebrated another year of life: Corn turned 102 on Sept. 28, and Frederick was 103 on Oct. 1.
There are an estimated 846 centenarians living in Iowa, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. Iowa ranks third in the nation per capita for the number of people living here who are 100 or older, says Machelle Shaffer, with the Iowa Department on Aging.
Each year, Iowa’s centenarians are honored. This year’s event is Oct. 14 in Ames.
Lou Frederick was born Oct. 1, 1910, in Wisconsin, the son of immigrant Herman Frederick and his wife, Evelyn Lowe. His family moved to Washington when Frederick was 10.
After high school, Frederick joined the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and had several assignments through the Panama Canal area. He also began studying radio.
Eventually, Frederick made his way to Ottawa, Kan., with a friend. While there, he met the friend’s sister, Ruby Love, at a country dance. The two were married in March 1933 in Olathe, Kan. Daughter Marilyn was born the following year.
Frederick wanted to become a radio engineer, and the family moved to Des Moines in 1936 so he could be closer to WHO radio. Before he could land a job at the station, he had to complete coursework and receive a license through the Federal Communications Commission.
The family settled in the Beaverdale neighborhood. Jeanette joined the family in 1937, and James in 1946.
Frederick took courses through Iowa State University Extension and Drake University, while he worked at the Savery Hotel in downtown Des Moines.
By 1941, the United States had joined World War II.
Times were tough. Gas was rationed, as was sugar, coffee and other items — even nylon stockings. The nylon was used in parachutes and other things for soldiers.
“I hate to say how many people who came out in the morning and found their gas tanks dry,” Frederick recalls of the times.
Ruby Frederick was part of the civil defense army and helped keep watch for suspicious air craft.
The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps had come to Des Moines. The Savery Hotel became additional barracks and an induction center for the women. Frederick and others lost their jobs when the hotel closed to the public.
Dreams of a radio career begin at WHO radio
Frederick soon finished his training and began work at WHO as a radio engineer.
He worked beside many of the big names in the industry. He traveled to Big 10 schools with Jim Zabel, who was the play-by-play announcer for the Iowa Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball teams. Other familiar names included Jack Shelley, a World War II combat reporter and later news director of WHO; Herb Plambeck, who started the farm department at WHO radio; and Chet Randolph, another longtime farm broadcaster.
Frederick moved to the television side of WHO in 1954. It was a new venue, and he learned to work cameras, set up equipment, including microphones for broadcasts, and operate the master control.
“It was wonderful growing up with radio and television,” Frederick says. “It was wonderful working with the people, the talent especially.”
He retired in 1975. He and Ruby had traveled the United States extensively already, but their newfound freedom opened up a whole new world to them, literally.
The Fredericks’ travels included Italy, Israel and the Holy Land, England, Japan, East Germany, Australia and areas of South America.
“Look at all of those slides,” Frederick says of his trip photos.
Several of those trips were with local organizations, and with one of the groups, travelers did not know until their departure where they would be traveling.
“That was part of the intrigue of the trip, that you didn’t know where you were going until you left,” Frederick recalls.
Alaska and Hawaii remain on his bucket list, though he doubts he’ll make it to those destinations. He stopped traveling about eight years ago.
Frederick spent 74 years with his love, Ruby. She died in 2007. They had three children; nine grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and many more great-great-grandchildren.
He says he thinks the key to his age is that he’s lived life fully and been surrounded by friends and loved ones. He and Ruby danced for years and were very active in their garden. Frederick was involved in the Boy Scouts, the Des Moines High Twelve Club of the Masonic Order, the Friendship Force, Immanuel United Methodist Church and the Za-Ga-Zig Shriners.
“You have to enjoy life and see the bright side of everything,” Frederick says. “You need to be thankful you had this life to live in this world and see all that’s in it. Keep your faith and maintain good health. I’ve been blessed and lucky.”
Longtime pediatrician’s family escapes war-torn Russia, lands in Des Moines
Dr. Henry Corn’s name is probably most recognizable for his longtime service as a pediatrician. His pediatric clinic stands to this day at Beaver Avenue and Hickman Road.
But his story begins in Russia with his parents Israel Jacob and Dora Corn.
Israel was drafted into the Russian Army with orders to go to Siberia. He knew it was a death sentence, so Israel escaped to Sweden with his family. He then followed his brother to Des Moines. Israel worked as a tailor to earn money for the rest of his family to join him.
Eventually his wife Dora and their children joined him in Des Moines. The couple’s youngest child, Henry, was born in their home on Seventh Street on Sept. 28, 1911.
Henry remembers the invention of the automobile and watching them travel along the street while he sat on the curb with one of his sisters.
In about 1920, a contagious flu struck Des Moines. As a youth, he saw the covered bodies being removed from houses. Luckily, no one in his family came down with the deadly flu.
These were the days before air conditioning. When it was unbearably hot, the family packed up and went to the Iowa Capitol grounds, where there was a breeze, and camped for the night.
His family wanted him to learn English. His sister lied about his age, and he entered kindergarten at age 4 instead of the required age of 5.
Corn attended North High School and played in a string quartet. He was the second violinist and was concert master of the orchestra his senior year. He later played in the Des Moines Symphony until the time constraints proved to be too much.
Corn played the violin until he was 96 years old. He recently sold his prized Benjamin Banks handmade violin, saying a good violin only stays good if it is played.
Medical school means hard work for both Corn, his family
Corn attended the University of Iowa’s medical school, but his true passion was music.
“Actually, I wanted to be a musician, but my dad thought I couldn’t make a living being a musician,” he recalls.
Henry received a scholarship to the pre-medicine program at Iowa. His parents and sisters worked at the tailor shop in order to send Henry and his brother to college.
Money was tight. He loved the Iowa Hawkeyes football team but couldn’t afford a ticket to a game. He sent his laundry home because he couldn’t pay to launder it. He hitchhiked home when he had no bus ticket until a truck driver pulled a gun on him. After that, his parents ensured he had a ticket home.
Upon graduation, Henry practiced medicine in Des Moines for a few years until he entered the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II. He treated German prisoners of war at a U.S. camp, and was later sent to treat U.S. soldiers in Guadalcanal and New Caledonia.
Later, Henry was transferred to St. Louis where he met Bernice, an Army secretary. She laughed when she read his name: Maj. Dr. Henry Corn from Iowa.
The two began to date. Henry laughs as he remembers he took her out in the ambulance because he didn’t have a car of his own.
They married on Nov. 29, 1952. The couple had three daughters: Loretta, Sandra and Phyllis; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Bernice died in 2002.
Post-war life leads Corn back to Des Moines, pediatrics
Henry returned to Des Moines with Bernice and resumed his medical practice. He opened an office on the west side before settling in Beaverdale. His clinic remains today.
There were no antibiotics when Corn first started practicing medicine. Severe ear infections required him to lance, or place a tiny incision in, the ear drum to allow the infection to run out.
“It was horrible because you had nothing to take, no medicines for them,” he recalls.
During the polio epidemic, Corn had to watch hundreds of parents be separated from their children while the youngsters were contained at the hospital for treatment.
He was a physician at the time when house calls were the way of life. He took his own children to the houses of those who had swing sets so he could spend as much time with them as possible. He would perform several house calls each evening and always called the next morning to see how his young patients were doing.
“So many patients felt like he was family,” says Loretta Fingert, his oldest daughter.
Retirement from medicine means more adventures for Corn
Corn retired in 1981, but he didn’t slow down. He went with Loretta to Paris at age 95.
“Some of the relatives asked ‘How can you take a 95-year-old man to Paris?’” Loretta recalls. “I couldn’t keep up with him.”
Henry lived independently until he was 97 years old. In recent years, he’s suffered from poor circulation in his legs, which has resulted in some toe amputations. He hasn’t let that get him down.
“I don’t let it bother me,” he says.
When Henry turned 100, he offered this advice:
“Do your best. Be honest and truthful and be helpful to others. Enjoy life. Eat chocolate. Make your family the most important part of your life, and do the best you can in stressful situations, but don’t let stress govern your life.”