Francis Daniel, age 91, lives alone in a small trailer in the town of Salem, Missouri. To help relieve the loneliness since his wife, Janice, passed away four years ago, he volunteers to help friends and neighbors with home and yard maintenance.
Mr. Daniel moves like a man half his age and has a healthy luster to his skin and snow-white hair. He smiles easily as we sit in his pleasant living room and talk about his long life and the many things he’s seen and done.
He recalls the different homes he has lived in (28) and tells me he’s visited all 48 contiguous states plus Alaska. He jokes that he’ll drive out to Hawaii as soon as they build the road.
Then he talks about growing up in Clear Lake, Iowa. He remembers, “When I was 10 years old I worked mornings one summer pulling wild mustard out of a lady’s four-acre orchard. She paid me five cents per hour.”
Another neighbor was raising vegetables to sell and hired Daniel and his older brother to pick them. “I also mowed lawns for 10 cents with an old reel mower and I had a paper route. I earned enough to buy my own school clothes,” he states. As Daniel got older, bigger jobs came his way—driving tractors and working on harvesting crews. When he was 16 he went on thrashing runs with his own team. The next year he hauled grain bundles.
Life on the farm in Iowa was good. The family did share cropping, paying $5 per year for the pastureland for their cows and horses and giving the owner half the corn and two-fifths of the oats.
Then in 1930 the stock market crashed and the Great Depression changed their lives forever. The family was allowed to keep their team of horses and a plow, a few chickens and their household items. Everything else was gone.
A bit of history
Daniel’s grandmother was born in 1860 and lived in the Nevada-Maxwell area in Iowa. She once attended a series of meetings where Ellen White preached.
His father was born in 1876. When his first wife lay ill and dying he hired a local teenager to care for their 10-year-old daughter. Several years later he married her and nine children were born to them—eight of which grew to adulthood (five boys and three girls).
Careers and travels
Daniel married in 1944 at age 18 at Oak Park Academy and worked for the state tax department in Iowa. In 1946 he and his wife moved to Sunnydale Adventist Academy where he was to manage the dairy since he had experience with farming and dairy work. At that time SAA owned 800 acres of land and milked approximately 30 cows.
Mr. Daniel’s day began at 2:30 am when he awoke student workers. They started milking at 3, made sure the cows were fed and stalls cleaned by 6:30, hurried home and ate breakfast by 7. Then he delivered milk in town till 11:30, rushed home for a quick bite of lunch and was back in the milking parlor by 1pm pasteurizing for the next day’s deliveries and doing the afternoon milking.
“We provided a quality product and were popular in town,” he states. “Some folks said they used our half-and-half for making whipped cream.” Daniel was also responsible for billing and collecting from customers.
In 1982 he found himself unemployed. It seemed that no one wanted to hire a 59 year-old nursing home administrator. So, at his wife’s suggestion, they purchased a school bus and converted it to a mobile home. Then they went on the road for 18 years, earning their living by buying and selling at flea markets. “It was nice because we were always home,” he recalls, smiling.
When I ask the inevitable question about how he stays healthy enough to care not only for himself but others, Daniel replies without hesitating.
“The key is to keep moving. I’m always looking for something constructive to do.”
When people suggest that at his age he ought to be slowing down he tells them, “I can’t slow down because I can’t build back up again. Activity keeps me healthy.”
Daniel says he takes eight different vitamins, for a total cost of approximately 50 cents per day. He doesn’t remember the last time he took any medicine—it’s been so many years. He has not had a major illness for over 50 years.
He does recall that while working at a hospital in West Virginia he suffered a back injury and his chiropractor advised him to quit eating meat as a means of promoting healing. He reports that within six months of becoming a vegetarian he was well (and also released from his persistent nasal drainage).
Best advice: work hard and help people
Daniel advises, “Don’t just fill a chair. Stay active. Work hard. Help people. That’s what I’ve done all my life.”
Daniel says he is not a TV person. “I only watch the news. But I read good material such as Sister White’s writings.” He also fills the pulpit at his church at least once a month and for many years taught the Sabbath school lesson.
Pointing down to the end of the street and says, “The lady who lives there is in a nursing home, so I take care of her yard. And I do lawns for two other ladies. They take about two hours each. I just rest an hour in between and eat some quality protein—mostly I eat beans—and I’m ready to go again. I don’t tire easily.” Daniel adds that he has a chain saw and cuts down trees. “Nothing scares me,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Another lady calls him her errand boy. “She phones me and says, ‘I need you’ so I drive over and do whatever she needs and when she says, ‘What do I owe you?’ I say, ‘A thank you.’ Then we smile and I go on my way.”
Daniel says he keeps planning ahead to stay healthy in his daily life and work. “If you don’t have a plan there’s always a wide road in the street. Study to know what you need and then be sure that you get it. That has been my success. The Lord has been very good to me.”
Bonus: Watch a video segment of Mr. Daniel discussing his life and health.