Nordonia Hills -- The mullet was not a big fish, maybe five inches long, but Frank Mihalic remembers his excitement.

"I used to fish when I was a small kid and I remember the first fish I caught. I ran home and showed it to my mother," he said.

It was more than a few years ago. Mihalic turned 104 on Jan. 30. A birthday party is planned for Mihalic Feb. 16 at St. Barnabas Villa, a group home for senior citizens on St. Barnabas Parish property in Northfield Center. Villa Manager Natalie Priest said that on his birthday, Mihalic sat by a window while as many as 30 St. Barnabas School students gathered outside.

"They sang 'Happy Birthday' to him. It was very nice," she said.

Mihalic moved to the villa last summer from Euclid to be near his daughter, Macedonia resident Betty Stricharczuk. Stricharczuk, 79, the oldest of Mihalic's three children, said her father has "quite a personality."

"He's a pretty strong guy," she said. "He has congestive heart failure and gets sick, but he gets over it. He goes on and on."

Mihalic was the fourth of 11 children in his family. A brother, George, died two months ago at 93, leaving Mihalic with two siblings still alive, Agnes, who is in her early 90s, and Tony, who is "pushin' 90."

He is originally from Maynard, in Belmont County in southeast Ohio. As a boy, Mihalic did "what most kids do, play," and fished in the creek near town. The fishing ended when pollutants from a coal mine contaminated the creek. When Mihalic was 15 or 16, he went to work in the mine. It could be dangerous work. Mihalic lost an older brother, 20, who died in a cave-in in 1918.

"World War I broke out and he wanted to enlist and our mother talked him out of it and he died anyway," said Mihalic.

Mihalic lost his job after 18 months when the coal petered out and he came north to Cleveland in the late 1920s and got a job operating a machine that put the slots into screws.

He married his wife Elizabeth around 1931, despite the fact that by then, the nation was in the Great Depression and he was unemployed.

"I didn't have a penny, a job. I didn't know how we were going to live. It wasn't fun in those days," he said.

"I had a bill with a butcher for $100," Mihalic continued. "There was a grocer with a $33 bill on me and I didn't think I would ever pay it off."

But by the time World War II started, he was working on an assembly line at Eaton Axle and paid the bills. He held the job for 31 years and retired in his late 50s.

"I did a lot of fishing," he said, of his retirement. "I enjoyed myself. I wanted to live."

Mihalic said his wife died about 1980 after a long illness.

"He never complains," said Stricharczuk "My mother had a paralytic stroke and he took care of her for years."

So how has Mihalic managed to live so long?

"I don't know," he said. "I just lived. I lived just like anyone else. One day to another."


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