JIM Stapleton reckons he has been around long enough to be related to just about everyone and anyone in the district.
Mind you, he was off to a flyer as his mother was the 13th of 16 children and his mother-in-law had been the eldest of 14.
Tomorrow this iconic veteran will celebrate his 104th birthday — his first in 77 years without his wife Nell, who died last year just shy of her own 100th birthday.
‘‘Together we were related to just about half the world,’’ Jim laughed.
‘‘I was hurt playing football in the Hume League finals and spent two weeks in hospital — every time I woke up Nell was there holding my hand, so when I got better I married that girl.’’
He and Nell had four children — John, Ian, Lynette and Michael (with six grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren added to the mix). Sadly, Michael died in a car accident in 1975, aged only 23. ‘‘Losing Michael was indescribable and I don’t think we ever fully recovered, we just learnt to live with it,’’ he said.
Sport has always been a big part of Jim’s life; he started playing senior football aged 15 and did not hang up his boots until he was 39.
‘‘I tried to retire twice before I finally did, I kept being dragged back in,’’ he laughed.
Trying his hand at golf, football and rifle shooting; Jim said his best sport was cycling, in which he competed between 1930 and 1936.
As sharp as ever Jim still drives around in his Camry and plays at the local bowls club.
The man himself is a living tribute to the history of golf in the twin towns.
‘‘I did two things in life and one of them was leading the Echuca Golf Club across the river to Rich River.’’
Echuca Golf Club president from 1952-55, Jim said during his tenure the club put on the best working bees anyone had ever seen.
‘‘In three years we had put in 18 grass greens, a water system, new clubrooms and got a license,’’ he said.
‘‘But we also had five floods in three years so we knew we needed to look for new grounds.
‘‘I’m proud of getting the Rich River Golf Club established because we were the outsiders going into NSW — everyone objected and we fought them two at a time through the courts.
‘‘Now Rich River has 10,000 members and employs 200 people in the region.’’
Jim was instrumental in building the new club and president for its first seven years and is its number one member for life.
Jim played golf for 90 years before giving up the sport aged 98 after pulling a muscle while having a swing in the backyard.
The other feather in his cap? He was one of six dairy supervisors to start the artificial breeding of dairy cows in Australia.
At 23 he started work for the Victorian Agriculture Department as a herd tester in Tallangatta, before becoming a dairy supervisor in both Pakenham, Tallangatta and Echuca.
Jim’s secret to a long and happy life: ‘‘Learn how to be patient and hang around, you don’t go through life without problems, you just keep going.’’
Jim will celebrate his birthday tomorrow with a family party.