Fred Hafner - Celebrating a Century

by his daughter Georgia

Fred Hafner was born in Buffalo, New York, on April 22, 1912, one week after the Titanic sank and two months after Arizona became a state. His father was a vice president of a meat packing company, so Fred’s dad literally brought home the bacon. (Fred and his sister grew up eating plenty of good protein.) When Fred was twelve, his father introduced him to golf, taking him along to play at a local course. Fred was provided with old wooden clubs cut down to his size. From then on, Fred and his friends snuck onto fairways away from the club house in order to practice. That began Fred's long involvement with golf, which became his favorite activity until he finally had to put away his clubs at age 95.

In his early twenties, Fred and his golfing buddies took a long road trip in a 1924 Model T Ford, purchased for $45, driving through Canada all the way to Vancouver, BC. The first stop was Callander, Ontario, to see the Dionne quintuplets, who were on public display in a specially built nursery equipped with one-way viewing screens. In Saskatoon, they crossed the South Saskatchewan River on a ferry barge drawn by a rope. In Banff they encountered glaciers right down to the road and took the opportunity to drive on one for a few miles “just because we could.” En route they stayed with relatives, or camped, returning to Buffalo via Yellowstone Park and the Oklahoma oil fields. The car had no side windows, just celluloid side curtains. Since that trip Fred has never lost his appetite for long road journeys. He took his wife and daughters on many lengthy summer car trips, always in an un-air-conditioned Buick. He recently took a casual day trip with one of his assistants to see, yet again, London Bridge in Lake Havasu City.

Throughout his life Fred has had an interest in science and technology. Fred was fifteen when he became captivated by astronomy. He immediately built his own reflecting telescope, grinding the eight inch concave mirror himself. That telescope is still out on his patio in Sun City West. While in high school, he built his own chemistry laboratory in the basement coal bin of his parents’ home. Later he built another lab in the basement of his own first house, where he performed many chemical experiments for his personal amusement and the instruction of his daughters. In 1934, he became fascinated by shortwave radio and bought a Scott radio kit. Late at night he would listen to Quito, Ecuador; Moscow; and several German stations. The radio still sits in his Sun City West den--and still works! In 1948, he bought a TV kit, and the Hafner household became the first on their block to receive TV broadcasts. For Fred, the home barometer was more than a decorative wall object; it was a scientific instrument with practical uses. When there was a tornado alert, he would herd the family down to the southwest corner of the basement, barometer in hand. The family would huddle around it, sometimes the only light a candle, and watch the needle fall. When it started to rise again, Fred would declare the “all clear.” Through all this time, Fred’s favorite magazine was the National Geographic, and he has a complete fifty year collection (1938-1988).

Fred went to college at the University of Buffalo (now the State University of New York at Buffalo) and became the first member of his family to get a college degree, majoring in food chemistry. He met his future wife Dolores Wonnacott in chemistry class. The two students engaged in a flirtatious bet: Fred maintained that Dolores wouldn't be allowed to do a difficult and potentially dangerous experiment, whereas the "experienced" Fred would get permission. Fred was right. The professor, as perhaps Fred knew, took a dim view of girls as chemists. Fred's prize for winning the bet? Dolores had to take him out for a chocolate soda. That was their first date. The relationship prospered, in part because of the plentiful roasts and steaks available at Fred's parents' during the Depression.

In 1937, after both Fred and Dolores had graduated and were now working in Buffalo, Fred was transferred by the Archer Daniels Midland company to its offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dolores decided to follow Fred, and they were married in Minneapolis at the First Baptist Church the day after she arrived on the train.
Fred and Dolores eventually moved to Edina, Minnesota, and raised two daughters, named after southern states (though they had no special ties to the South). Georgia was actually named after Dolores's father George, but when a second daughter arrived, they chose the name Virginia (Ginger). During this time, Fred went on to General Mills, where he spent the remaining 30 years of his career. As a food chemist, technologist, and nutritionist, Fred developed foods for people with metabolic deficiencies, renal disease, and gluten intolerance. He collaborated with doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, producing the Mayo Clinic Renal Diet Cookbook, which allowed patients with kidney disease to require dialysis less often. He also contributed to the evolution of Multi-Purpose Food (MPF), a high protein soy product that could be added to the diet of malnourished people in India, Mexico, and other developing countries. The high point of his career was the trip he took to India in 1959 to introduce MPF there.

Meanwhile, the family spent a lot of their free time out-of-doors. Fred bought an aluminum canoe, and the family filled many happy summer afternoons canoeing on Minneapolis lakes. Summer vacations typically included a stay by a northern Minnesota lake, a car trip to National Parks in the west, or a trip “back home” to visit Buffalo relatives. Winters found the Hafners ice skating, building snow forts, and shoveling snow together. Fred and Dolores were both very active in support of the girls' schools, Girl Scouts, and their musical activities. Fred used the telescope he had built at 15 to teach his daughters, the neighborhood kids, and the Girl Scouts about the planets, the solar system, and all the stars.

After his girls had moved away from home, Fred decided in the early 60s that he had time to join the Rotary Club. He has continued his active membership to this day. He retired from General Mills in 1976, and that's when he and Dolores decided to winter in Arizona. They relocated permanently to Sun City West in 1981 when their lakefront house in Minnesota was condemned by the city of Plymouth to make a county park.

Fred and Dolores became very active in their new Arizona community. They were part of the Prides local civic group from its inception, retiring at last after 25 years of dutiful weeding of the town boulevards. They golfed locally as members of Pebblebrook Golf Club, where Fred earned a green jacket. They swam regularly--Fred taking pride in the fact that he could swim the length of the pool under water in a single breath--and hiked and picnicked in the nearby mountains. They were (and Fred remains) stalwart members of Bellevue Heights Baptist Church, where Fred was long a deacon. Fred has done much calligraphy work for his Arizona Rotary Club. He has also spoken on world hunger to his club and others.

Fred and Dolores celebrated their 71st Anniversary in 2008. Dolores was still directing the management of the house; Fred did the work. However, in November of that year, she developed congestive heart failure and passed away at the age of 99. Since then Fred has continued to live in their home with the help of four wonderful assistants. He works out weekly with his personal trainer at the fitness center, sings karaoke regularly at Coco's Grand (check out “Fred Hafner” on YouTube), attends Rotary meetings every Friday, goes to church on Sundays, and watches his beloved golf on TV. He even still spends some late afternoons on the golf course, with his assistant driving the cart; these days, however, it is not the little white ball they chase but rabbits! He also spends a week each summer with his daughters at his timeshare in Sedona. He is enjoying life fully.

Fred had always wanted to see in the new millennium. Done. Then he had to come up with a new goal, and he’s been counting down the days to this 100th birthday for the last two years. Now he has to think ahead, and Frank Sinatra has provided the inspiration for the next milestone. It's in Fred's theme song, “Young at Heart”: “And if you should survive to 105, think of all you'll derive out of being alive....” That's the next horizon for a person who is definitely “Young at Heart.”