Retired at 96, Maurice Jury celebrates 100 years

Lana Holland offers birthday wishes to Maurice Jury at their Shawano home.

Carol Ryczek | NEW Media
Carol Ryczek

SHAWANO — Maurice Jury celebrated four years of retirement this year. Considering he retired at age 96, his celebration also includes a nod to his 100th birthday.

From farming as a boy to repairing dehumidifiers in his 90s, making mechanical things work has been a part of the new centenarian’s life.

The connection to engineering may have stemmed from his birth, which was in a box car in a New Mexico railroad yard. The date was May 19, 1920.

Jury’s family moved to the Texas panhandle when he was a baby. In 1925, his father bought a dairy farm in the panhandle.

He was a young teen when he saw the first effects of the Dust Bowl. In 1924, he was outside his Texas home and saw a black cloud coming.

“I hit the back door about the time that it hit,” he said. “It was black inside the house.”

He knew all along that dairy farming was not for him. The mechanics that kept a farm going — that was where his skills and interest were. “When I was only 18, I rewound an electric motor and put it on the milk cooler,” he said.

He took his interest in things mechanical to Texas Tech at Lubbock, Texas, where he studied electrical engineering.

“On Dec. 6, ‘41, I was suddenly awoken around midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep,” he said. “I took a walk and got back to my room and went to sleep, and woke up the next morning to hear the news about bombing Pearl Harbor.”

By the end of April 1942, he had enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His training in mechanics and engineering made him a good fit to take care of C-47 airplanes and gliders. He eventually made it to Australia and islands in the South Pacific as an aerial engineer. He put in 1,000 hours in the air overseas.

“I flew with planes when they flew,” Jury recalled, “and when they were on the ground, I worked on them.”

When the war ended, he finished school in mechanical engineering and found a job with Allis-Chalmers in Milwaukee, working in their nuclear power department. He helped to develop a high pressure water pump and a control rod drive mechanism for a plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Not long after that, though, a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania put an end to the nuclear program. “Suddenly it’s ‘not in my backyard,’ and it quit, just like that.”

He moved to Madison to work at the Oscar Mayer meat packing plant. There, he developed a mechanical process for making long sticks of bologna — 37 pounds in each stick.

“There was raw pork in and came out as a long, frozen stick of bologna,” he said.

Jury stayed with Oscar Mayer until he was 65, then he used his experience with refrigeration to repair dehumidifiers. He also took care of lawnmowers, snowmobiles and anything else that had an engine in need of repair. He retired from that venture when it became too hard to pull the cords on the machines.

After that, he worked on broken sewing machines until he lost feeling in the tips of his fingers. That was the last time he retired, four years ago.

Jury was married twice but had no children. His first wife, Esther, passed away in 1972. In 1978, he married Josephine, who passed away 13 years ago. Though Jury never had a daughter, he had the next best thing in Lana Holland, a 42-year Madison neighbor. She stepped in as his caretaker when Josephine died.

“It got to the point where he couldn’t live alone anymore, and I didn’t want him to go to a nursing home,” Holland said. “So we bought a house in my hometown of Shawano.” It’s handicap-accessible and allows her to provide round-the-clock care, she said. The home, on the south side of Shawano on the Wolf River, has a great view of the water, she added.

Holland said she enjoys Jury’s company.

“He’s got a smile on his face every day,” she said. “He doesn’t focus on the negative, always in a good mood, and never, ever complains about anything.”

As Jury’s age puts him at risk for serious complications from COVID-19, Holland planned a non-traditional birthday, complete with a yard sign and balloons. They plan to spend the day as they do many other days, watching from the house as “George and Martha,” two bald eagles, soar over the Wolf River.