Retired rancher doesn’t let age slow him down

Erin Ballard
Farm Forum

For John Zilverberg, age truly is just a number.

The 104-year-old stays active in many disciplines, including participating in sports and keeping up with the news.

Ask him how he’s made it more than a century with his relative health in tact and he’ll just laugh.

“I don’t have any big secrets. Don’t abuse yourself too much,” he said on Jan. 17 in his apartment at Primrose Retirement Communities of Aberdeen. “I’ve been pretty lucky, no serious accidents.”

Zilverberg moved into the complex at the end of November, but it didn’t change much about his lifestyle. Upon arrival, he realized there was no pool table. That would quickly change.

“They said I could bring it in,” he said of moving the table into the second floor of the building. “Whenever I get the chance to play pool, I do.”

Even for someone who has had few maladies throughout life, Zilverberg’s career is impressive.

He has been an active participant in the South Dakota Senior Games for at least 30 years, with dozens of bronze, silver and gold medals that hang from multi-colored ribbons in his living room. Now, he’s the oldest competitor in the state games. He participated in nine or 10 events last year, including the hammer throw, shuffleboard, bean bags and bowling.

Zilverberg was inducted into the South Dakota Senior Games Hall of Fame in 2005.

“I’ve been active all my life,” he said while shuffling through a book of old newspaper clippings and photos. “I like the competition and you meet a lot of people.”

Zilverberg is also a decorated marine. He joined the corps in 1941 and spent most of his time in the South Pacific. That was during World War II. Despite the unnerving experience, Zilverberg is sure the four-year stint didn’t change his life drastically.

“When I came back, I went to the ranch (near Highmore), starting right where I left off,” he said.

That concept seems to be a theme in Zilverberg’s life. He might appear extraordinary to anyone looking in, but to him, it’s just life.

July 10, 2013, was proclaimed John Zilverberg Day in South Dakota by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, in appreciation of his life’s work.

“I just do it,” he said of his active lifestyle. “As long as I’ve got something to do, I can keep busy and it’s alright.”

When Zilverberg returned home after the war, he put together some money and began his career.

That soon involved two private cattle auctions a year. His family would eventually become founding members of the North American Limousin Foundation, a group for those involved with the breed of cattle that originated in France.

Even today, Zilverberg dons tucked-in Western-style shirts with leather belts depicting scenes of the West looped through dark jeans. Being at the ranch is and was a passion, he said. It’s what he’s dedicated most of his life to.

Zilverberg didn’t retire from his ranch until 1990, at age 85.

When his daughters told a story of him climbing and re-tinning a building roof at the Highmore ranch by himself, he shrugged it off.

“Yeah, well …”

He was 92 years old at the time.

“They didn’t think I should be out there,” he said, chuckling.

Nowadays, when Zilverberg’s not bowling, playing pool or spending time with loved ones, he’s watching the news or reading the paper — things he does to stay up to date on world and local happenings.

Last year, he sent the American News nine letters to the editor that were published. That was the highest total for any person in 2017.

“I see events I’m interested in and I write my opinion,” Zilverberg said.

One was about nonmeandered waters, an issue the Legislature is again debating in Pierre.

Asked if he enjoys politics in particular, which he writes frequently about, he laughed and said, “It’s all about politics, isn’t it?”

Zilverberg doesn’t have any specific plans for the future, except that he hopes to keep doing what he’s doing.

“I guess I hope to live another five years,” he said, half joking.

He couldn’t talk too long because he had a friendly competition lined up.

“I’ve got a pool player waiting on me now,” he said.

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ABOVE: John Zilverberg talks about his 104 years during an interview Wednesday. American News photo by John Davis