Friends marvel at Antioch centenarian's bridge skills
Friends marvel at Antioch centenarian's bridge-playing skills
Joe Stepanek calls bridge a thinking man's game.
Although, he adds with a chuckle, some good cards don't hurt.
What amazes his partners and competitors alike is Stepanek continues to play the game at such a high level at his age. He marked his 100th birthday Nov. 18.
The secret to his longevity?
"I'm not going to die until I learn this game," he said with a laugh.
Stepanek grew up in the Chicago area, spent his childhood in Pilsen and moved to Bedford Park, where he raised his three children, Joann, Kathy and Joe. But he said he also got to know Antioch while driving a delivery truck during his career with Sears Roebuck and Company.
"I didn't think I was going to work. I thought I was going out to see my friends," he said.
Stepanek made Antioch his permanent home eight years ago when he moved in with his daughter, Joann Gottermeyer, after he had an accident and broke his hip.
Gottermeyer is quick to add her dad was more concerned about the date he had scheduled that day.
"He would not let the paramedics take him to the hospital until someone called to cancel the date because he didn't want her to get mad at him," she said.
While he needs a walker to move around, many friends and family say Stepanek looks great for someone who has reached 100 years old. He attributes that to a healthy diet, adding his daughter feeds him well with lots of vegetables, and regular exercise. He also follows the Book of Joel.
"It says in the good Book of Joel it takes a little bit of liquor to keep body and soul together, so I have either a beer or a rum or coke with my meal every day," he said. "That's one bad thing about getting old is you only get one."
To give him something more to do and help keep his mind sharp, Gottermeyer suggested her dad go to the Antioch Senior Center. He learned about the regular bridge games hosted at the center and fell in love.
Although he had tinkered with the game over the years, Stepanek said the senior center is where he really learned how to play.
Walking into the game room, he flashes a big smile as he is met with hellos and hugs. Stepanek said the people there treat him like family.
"I'm so happy that I'm here," he said. "It keeps me living."
Richard Hosken, who goes to the center from his Lindenhurst home, offered to take Stepanek to the center on Thursdays to help Gottermeyer.
"I got the better end of the deal," he said.
They soon began playing bridge together.
"I think it's phenomenal that a man who is 100 years old can play a complex game like bridge and play it well," Hosken said.
In bridge, every card counts, Hosken explained. Even a small card can be a winner if you're paying attention and know what has been played. It's a skill to do that.
"Joe's really good at that. He's better at it than I am, 30 years his junior," he adds with a chuckle.
On Fridays, Stepanek also goes to the center to play bridge. Pairing up with him is Bobby Lancaster. Lancaster said husbands and wives often have played together for decades and understand each other, which is a huge asset. But Stepanek excels no matter who is sitting across the table from him.
"He has to put up with Rich on Thursday and me on Friday, and he does it very successfully," Lancaster said.
While he acknowledges Stepanek is competitive, Lancaster said he also is the nicest player.
"In all the years I've played with him, I've never seen him get upset at anybody, He's always cheerful, win or lose," said Lancaster, who lives in Antioch. "He's very competitive, but he doesn't mope and he doesn't whine when he loses. He is always courteous and nice to every one of our opponents."
Stepanek is a welcome addition to the game room at the Antioch Senior Center. So much so, Gottermeyer pointed out, the seat her dad sits in is recognized as the "Joe Stepanek chair."
"They treat me like a million bucks," Stepanek said. "Who wouldn't like this life?"