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MAN HITTING 100TH YEAR IN FULL STRIDE

Luther Reynolds was having lunch -- a mug of soup and a sandwich -- when I arrived at Ann Heibach's lakefront home where he has been living for the past four years.

Ann, 76, is a longtime realtor who helped nurse Luther back to health 11 years ago when they both lived in Colden.

My reason for visiting Luther was that on Friday he'll be 100. Reaching 100 is not as rare as it was 50 years ago, but it's special enough, especially if the fellow still dances, rides a bicycle, skis and remembers yesterdays as well as yester-decades.

I had read stories about Luther Reynolds. If people are advised to "seize the moment," I wanted to talk to a man who has seized the century.

Regulars at Kissing Bridge and a few at Holiday Valley know Luther, the skier. Last winter, he didn't get out as much as he when he was young, say, 80.

"I skied just three times last year," he said. "I had ridden a bus earlier, and I hurt some bones in a rough ride."

Luther -- calling this sparkling man Mr. Reynolds didn't seem right -- was born in the forest of Hoits when another Erie County man -- Grover Cleveland -- was president.

"Hoits was a place in the Town of Ashford where that West Valley nuclear place is now," Luther said. "My father used to cut down the trees and send them to Buffalo on the old BRP (Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad). When one of his customers went broke, we had to move." Luther lived in Springville until 1979.

He delights in telling how he went to high school there and was a star athlete in football, basketball and track.

"I could do anything," he said.

Before he graduated in 1910, he was the 142-pound quarterback and unofficial coach of the championship Springville football team. And once he leapt 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches in the broad jump, a town record that lasted until 1970.

"Pop Warner and I were good friends," Luther said, speaking of the famous Springville-born football coach.

His first job was as a BRP telegrapher. Then he became a clerk in the Springville Post Office. That lasted until World I, when a rigid aspect of Luther's character emerged.

"I had taken to reading the Bible," he related. "One commandment says, 'Thou shalt not kill.' So when they drafted me, I became a conscientious objector. I believe that if God told me not to kill and I went against his will, he'd strike me dead."

Luther still reads the Bible regularly.

His unshakable determination not to carry a soldier's gun or to help any aspect of the war cost him 30 days in the Erie County Jail and a year in federal prisons. Once he invited officers at Camp Dix "to take me out and shoot me." He says he originally was sentenced to death.

"President Wilson commuted that to 25 years in prison and later to one year," he said.

In 1919, when he returned to Springville, he was welcomed by most people and worked in a grocery.

In 1921, Luther found another grocer's job with the Danahy-Faxon chain.

"I worked for them for 12 years, nine of them as manager of its best Buffalo store at Delaware Avenue and Gates Circle. Then I started my own business in Springville."

In his Prospect Street garage, he opened a grocery, where the specialty was country home delivery.

He later started a foot comfort business and then augmented it with an insurance brokerage. He kept the insurance business until 1987 when he sold it to Thomas M. Reynolds -- no relative, but a state assemblyman and Erie County GOP chairman.

Luther and his wife -- they married in 1923 -- never had children.

"They didn't teach sex in school in those days," he said, grinning. She died in 1975.

In the late 1950s, Luther, now well established, was dissatisfied with the candidates that his fellow Democrats were nominating for office. Soon he was chairman of the Concord Democratic Committee. Concord voters in the last half-century always have elected Republican supervisors. In 1961 Luther fell just a few votes shy of breaking that string.

His interest in politics did not wane. He was elected chairman of the South Towns Democratic Leaders Committee and sat with Peter Crotty and Joseph Crangle on the Erie County Democratic Executive Committee.

Luther maintained his Democratic allegiance until last year. Attending a meeting where Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, was being criticized, Luther was impressed with the first-termer and showed it by switching to a Republican registration.

"I wrote Bill Paxon to take heart if he's ever in the dumps by remembering that he persuaded two Democrats to register Republican."

Luther and Ann return to Springville weekly where they belong to the Poetry Club. He's in good health, but wears a hat over his nearly bald head "because I catch cold easily." The only medicine he uses is a little wine and hot water for stomach upset.

He wants to stay healthy for the big July 1 birthday party that Ann has planned for his new and old friends.

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