Walter Breuning of Great Falls, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest man, died of natural causes Thursday, April 14, at a local hospital. A retired railroad employee, he was a longtime resident of the Rainbow Senior Living Community and a much-beloved man to many people in the community.
At his request, no services are planned. Cremation has taken place.
Walter officially became the oldest man in the world on July 18, 2009, and the fact that he held the record for so long is amazing and a credit to his wonderful constitution. Walter was well-known for his kindness to others and often encouraged others to live life well.
According to Walter, "Be good to everybody, be kind to everybody, and help other people. The more you do for other people, the better you are going to help yourself. Every day is a good day; make it that way."
Walter was born Sept. 21, 1896, in Melrose, Minn., to John Breuning and Cora Morehouse Breuning. In 1901, his family moved to De Smet, S.D., where he went to school for nine years until dropping out in 1910. He began scraping bakery pans for $2.50 a week and later joined the Great Northern Railway in 1913. During his early years, he noted that he would have to hide from the owner who didn't want any rail-road employees under the age of 18 (Walter was first hired at age 17). He worked for the Great Northern Railway until his re-tirement at age 66. He also was a manager/secretary for the local Shriner's club until age 99. His siblings, two brothers and two sisters, lived to the ages of 78, 85, 91 and 100.
During World War I, he signed up for military service, but was never called up. He moved to Montana in 1918, where he continued working as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway. There, he met Agnes Twokey, the love of his life and a telegraph operator from Butte. They married in 1922, and remained so until her death in 1957. They had no children
In 1980, Walter moved into The Rainbow Senior Living community in Great Falls, Mont. Dressed in a suit and tie every day, he enjoyed visiting with friends and his two meals a day, a regimen he subscribed to for years, and to which he often attributed his good health. He maintained a sharp and accurate memory. He often referred to his childhood experiences such as remembering the day President William McKinley was shot as the day "I got my first haircut."
In his later years, Walter became famous and received many accolades for his record-breaking age. Prior to his death, he was the oldest living Shriner, Scottish Rite member and railroad employee on record.
Walter is survived by a niece and three nephews.
He requested that in lieu of flowers and cards, donations be made to support the Shriner's Children's Travel Fund or the Scottish Rite Language Disorder Center.
Condolences may be posted online at www.gftribune.com/obituaries.
Published in Great Falls Tribune on Apr. 21, 2011