“I was born in Jackson Michigan some 90 years ago and I celebrated my 90th. birthday on the 11th of November this year on Marco Island. I spent my childhood in Michigan until I was around eighth grade age, then we moved to Knoxville Tennessee. I graduated from Knoxville High School where I also met my future wife, Mary. We both went to the University of Tennessee in 1938. I graduated in Chemical Engineering and Mary in Home Economics.
Mary’s mother didn’t want her to grow up too fast so she told her a fib about her date of birth. She thought her birthday was December the 8th, 1921.
My birthday was November the 11th, 1920. We married six months before we graduated. Mary’s mother taught her to cook and also the southern way, so I got a really good deal!
I initially got a job in Linwood, Pennsylvania, working for Eugene Jules Houdry, the developer of the catalytic process for converting lignite coal to gasoline. I suggested to Mary if she wanted to work when we moved north then she should get a copy of her birth certificate. Mary applied, it arrived, and lo and behold her birthday was November the 11th, 1920 the same date as mine!”
I graduated in Chemical Engineering with excellent grades. I could have progressed to a PHD. At the time the war was going on. This is in the 1942/1943 period. I decided not to sign up but continue in engineering to contribute. The head of my department fully understood and he aided me in securing a position. I worked in a Houdry lab developing the Houdry process at Linwood Pennsylvania.
I worked directly with the French developer and founder Eugene Jules Houdry on developing pilot plants through the Houdry process by (TCC) catalytic cracking of petroleum, moving away from the original process of thermal cracking. Almost 50% of the cracked product was gasoline compared with 25 percent from the thermal method.
The new process became commercially viable. We continued to work and develop the best yields, this resulted in gasoline being more affordable and of better quality. In 1943 the group was producing 10,000 barrels per day, by 1945 at the end of World War II this had increased to 300,000 barrels per day.
It is said that the Houdy and TCC units were a major factor in winning World War II by supplying the high octane gasoline needed by the air forces of Great Britain and the United States.
Moving on we found Marco Island initially through our hobby collecting shells on the Jersey Shore while on vacation with our 3 children. We picked up shells and then visited the local library to learn about our finds.
As the years went by we moved south and vacationed in Sanibel, Florida. It was during our vacation we found Marco Island through a promotion and slide show by developers. My comment to Mary was we can see the presentation – but we are not buying.
We bought a lot on Marco in 1965, built our home in 1973 and we retired in 1979.
On our first visit to Marco all there was, was sand, sea and shells. That’s when I started making slides and have progressed with a collection of slides and photographs to 2010. The resulting presentation is a full visual history of Marco Island that is unique.”
John’s much loved wife and soul mate, Mary, passed on 11 years ago after 57 years of marriage. “I still miss her terribly. She was a great fisher woman and unbelievable cook. I lived like a king throughout our marriage. Now there is just me and my kitty cat, Stripey and her unconditional love. I still tend a small vegetable patch and fruit trees. Every morning I tricycle (a present from my son) two and a half miles, visit Tigertail every afternoon and chat with the park staff and visitors on vacation. I have made many friends over the years.
The Shell Club was an important part of our social time. We helped to form the club in the 70’s, the main interest was to focus on collecting and understanding shells and promoting shelling.
The Club now holds a shell conference where collectors can participate and win prizes. There is a scientific division and creative division with artistic and educational perspectives. Our exhibitions are great.
I started giving Marco History slide shows to groups about 10 years ago, which I prefer to do informally at my home. I have tried larger groups on a more formal basis but its not the same.
My living room is now my theater which is comfortable and relaxing for my visitors to enjoy the show. The evening starts at around 7:30 and can take up to 2 hours depending on the questions and interest. I have a long waiting list and especially in season I get very busy.
During the years I have met many people and made lots of friends. You can see the stack of thank you cards and some really special ones. I have had an amazing life with great memories, many during my time on Marco and I still look forward to every new day.”
I asked “what’s your secret to being so healthy at 90 years old?” With a wonderful smile John replied. “I guess its having the right genes.”
If you wish to see John’s presentation please contact John Maerker at 239-394-3438. It will help if you form your own group of 6. If not, John can always find people on his waiting list.