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Father, son turn aging into a game

May 31, 2007 By Leslie A. Pappas

It's spring again, which means the Lowickis are making their rounds at shareholder meetings.

Walter Lowicki, of Wilmington, and his son Stanley go every year to hear the latest company news, rub elbows and listen to the disgruntled few whom Stanley calls the "roust−abouts."

But mainly they go to play a game they call Guess My Age.

A recent target was Comcast's 87-year-old founder, Ralph J. Roberts. The Lowickis met him last week in the lounge outside the cable company's annual shareholder meeting in Philadelphia. Roberts looked at the senior Lowicki and guessed 75.

Lowicki, a small man who is thin but not frail, grinned.

"Higher," said his son.

"95? 96?" Roberts asked after a few more tries, looking slightly befuddled.

Roberts took a half-step back and surveyed the elder Lowicki head to toe, giving his biceps a gentle squeeze, and tried again.

"When they get to 90, they're shaking their heads. They don't believe it," Walter Lowicki explained earlier.

"And they don't want to say 100, because they think that's impossible. ... Nobody has guessed yet. Nobody!"

On Friday, Lowicki turned 104. He knows he doesn't show it.

He carries a cane, but doesn't use it much — except to lean forward and rock playfully when people start guessing. He still works on the roof, mows the lawn, ties his ties. In September, he won a gold medal for billiards in the Delaware Senior Olympics.

"But no jogging anymore," he said.

He's mum about his secret to longevity. "Then it wouldn't be a secret," his son said.

Beyond that, the advice he gives out is quick and concise:

What's the secret to a good marriage? "Don't argue."

What's the best way to save money? "You just don't spend it."

How do you pick your stocks? "If the company is doing well, I join them."

Why, during the 30 years he worked as a clerk at Delaware Park and the old Brandywine Raceway, did he never place a bet? "They say if you don't bet you don't win," he said. "But if you don't bet, you don't lose, either."

Lowicki spent his life working — and never missed a day. Born and raised in Wilmington, he vividly remembers the Depression. He lost $500 in a run on the banks, and witnessed police on horseback chasing customers away from his bank at 62nd and Walnut streets in Philadelphia, where he lived at the time.

Still, he managed to find $300 to spend on his wedding. He and Czeslawa "Tessie" Kryspin, who died in
1998, raised two boys running a deli and restaurant in Philadelphia, and later opened Walter's Market at Third and Monroe streets in Wilmington.

They saved money by dropping coins into a hole in the floor that had a breadbox stored underneath. "Every day we would put in 50 cents," Walter Lowicki said. "Business or no business, we would put in 50 cents."
It wasn't until the 1950s that Walter Lowicki had enough spare money to invest in stocks. One of his first investments was in Cuban sugar. "And then Cuba got mad at the United States. So that was a failure," he said.

But other stocks did well: GE, Johnson & Johnson, DuPont Co.

Walter Lowicki and his son started going to shareholder meetings about eight years ago.

Stanley Lowicki, 73, starts getting the papers together in March and makes a checklist for the stocks they own with meetings nearby — DuPont, WSFS, Wilmington Trust, Coca−Cola.

A lawyer who once worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for Delaware, Stanley Lowicki enjoys seeing "all the swells" like Warren Buffett, taking in the excitement when protesters show up, and listening to complaints from shareholders who comment on labor issues or human rights.

"It's interesting to see the play of power," he said.

The pair makes sure to come early to grab a coffee and a little food — if there is any. "Some are chintzy and some aren't," Stanley Lowicki said of the meetings. "I was surprised that DuPont only had coffee" this year.

Sometimes there are souvenirs — pens or mugs, or at Coca-Cola's, free bottles of Odwalla.

But mostly they come to have a little fun, Stanley Lowicki said. "We play this Guess My Age business. That's usually the intro. ... Because everybody is usually serious about something."

Over time, the pair have become known to meeting organizers. Wilmington Trust, established the year Walter Lowicki was born, asked him to stand the year the bank celebrated its 100th anniversary. The bank later invited the pair to a dinner and fireworks display at the Hagley Museum, a VIP event.

"Everybody walks around preening and parading," Stanley Lowickis said. "And there are shrimp as big as your wrist!"

Beth Sellers, executive assistant at WSFS Financial Corp., said she'll never forget meeting the Lowickis four years ago. "They were coming up the stairs, and the father was coming up first," she said. When she learned he was 100 at the time, "I was just floored. Here's this little man that was just running up the stairs, and his eyes were so bright. I just couldn't believe it. He just bounds up the stairs. I think he's even a little bit faster than his son."

Since then the Guess My Age game has spread. Stephen Fowle, WSFS' chief financial officer, met Walter
Lowicki two years ago, when a colleague pulled him aside and said, "See that guy? Guess how old he is."

"He's a little bit of a folk hero around here," Fowle said.

Stanley Lowicki says he and his father keep each other going.

"We keep saying, 'See you next year!' " he said. "And so far it's been true."

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— In fond memory of Makary "Walter" Lowicki, who passed away July 17, 2011 at the age of 108.


Leslie A. Pappas Phone +1 215-266-6771
email info@LeslieAPappas.com

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