Earl T. FoleyPhoto by Todd Cooper

Not a Damn Fool

Earl T. Foley celebrates his 100th birthday Oct. 11 at his Time Out Tavern

He would rather not make a fuss about it, this turning-100-years-old thing, even though he knows he’s on the losing end of that argument.

“I don’t like birthdays,” Earl T. Foley says from a booth at Springfield’s Time Out Tavern, sipping coffee one recent morning. “I’m shy in many ways. I’m a pretty regular guy. I consider myself very lucky. I’m wealthy in friends and have a great family.”

On Oct. 11, Foley will celebrate his centennial at the Time Out Tavern, which he has owned and operated since 2011. There will be men and women who are certain to show up and mark the occasion for the active man donning his World War II Veteran baseball cap and who can still turn on the wit and wisdom.

Yes, years of traversing the country and Europe — and a real estate venture in Oregon that didn’t pan out —  led him to buy the tavern on Main Street and become a favorite of its patrons.

The tavern is not a moneymaker, Foley says, but it pays for itself. Besides, when he bought the business he was 92 years old. “I needed something to do. I can’t sit still. I’m a damn fool.”

He has passed a good part of the day-to-day operation of the tavern to the manager, Shayla Mitchell, but “I do the shopping for the business,” Foley says, driving to and fro in one of his two Mercedes. 

He can clear out the vocal pipes, too, and sings karaoke from time to time. Anything from Frank Sinatra will do. How about rock? Foley shakes his head. “I consider it noise.”  

“Damn fool” or not, Foley isn’t kidding about the wealth of family and friends. This includes six daughters and 61 people total “who come from my own sperm, not counting the outlaws.” He has outlived two wives (Katherine and Carmen), but he slyly discloses that he is in a relationship now. 

“I love women,” he smiles.

From upstate New York to Europe, the Midwest to the West Coast, Puerto Rico to Oregon, Foley has seen Depression-era America, war in its most savage form, and educational benefits — degrees in engineering and clinical psychology — that allowed him and his family fiscal prosperity. He is walking, talking American history.

Foley was born in 1919 in upstate New York, the son of a woman of French descent and an Italian immigrant father. Foley spoke French and Italian before he could speak English. He has lost the Italian, he says, but has offset that by speaking fluent Spanish.

He graduated from high school at age 15 and Columbia University in New York City at age 18. Foley went to work as an engineer at the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in Buffalo, New York. That lasted until he “got the itch” as a 23-year-old and signed up for the military and World War II.

From there, Foley got to see history unfold under the direction of the famous Gen. George S. Patton. First there was North Africa, then Sicily, where he and a forward observer unit had bad maps and became temporarily lost. Then it was on to Marcé, France, and finally the Battle of the Bulge, in late 1944.

“That was the worst battle of all,” Foley says of the German offensive campaign on the Western Front. “People were getting killed left and right. Snow was up to our assholes.”

After the war, while still in Europe, Foley took advantage of educational opportunities for veterans and earned his degree in clinical psychology. He also met Katherine, his first wife, who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. They eventually settled in Lawrence, Kansas, where he worked at the University of Kansas Hospital and was on the front lines of the early years of mental health work.

“Shrinks were a dirty word” at the time, Foley explains. Yet the experience was humanizing. “Ours is a guiding light,” he says. “You’d be surprised at how smart you become by listening to others.”

The work in Kansas was followed by an administrative job for defense contractor Litton Industries in southern California’s San Fernando Valley (“because they offered me a lot of money,” Foley says, “and I had six kids.”). 

After Katherine died, Foley met and married his second wife, Carmen. Together, they moved to Puerto Rico, where Foley reprised his career as a clinical psychologist. Carmen died in 2004, and new challenges beckoned.

Family also beckoned, especially daughter Elaine Penix, who lives in Junction City. So Foley moved from Davenport, Florida. He proudly went back to retrieve his prized 1974 450 SL Mercedes. He notes that it sits comfortably in his garage.  

The past year has had its ups and downs health-wise for Foley. For a short time, he used a cane. Between misplacing the cane or it being in the way of day-to-day life, Foley was quickly ready to trash the implement and simply walk.

“If you haven’t walked with a cane before,” he says, “it’s a pain in the ass.”

Foley is standing just fine, thank you very much. Wish him a happy birthday. 

Earl T. Foley’s centennial birthday party starts at 8 pm, Oct. 11, at the Time Out Tavern in Springfield, 5256 Main Street.