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100-year-old poker player refuses to fold
Henry Wadelski celebrates his 100th birthday with friends, family, and poker chips at one of his favorite hang out spots: the Turlock Poker Room. - photo by BROOKE BORBA / The Journal

As with life, the game of poker incorporates skill, luck, and manipulating the cards you are dealt. No one understands this more than Henry Wadelski, who celebrated his 100th birthday amongst friends, family, and poker chips at the Turlock Poker Room on Monday.

Every April 1 for the last three years, Henry’s children — Marianne, Louise, Diana and Henry Jr. — have a tradition of visiting their father at the Turlock Poker Room for his birthday. An abundance of his friends were also found crowding around the table to play their hand at Monday's celebration.

Despite stating that he was no gambler, Wadelski was commended for his easy-going attitude and wit on the card table.

 “He will gut you like a codfish on this table,” joked Bill Marten, a close confidant and fellow poker player. “He is a very sharp player. It is a high privilege to know this man.”

Turlock Poker Room employee Su Vargas said that Wadelski visits daily, and is a regular favorite. Every year, they treat him with free chips based on his age. This year, he was granted 100 blue chips.

“I’ve known Henry for seven years. He has his little routine. He comes in mid-morning and leaves by mid-afternoon. He loves to smile, and is very polite,” said Vargas. “He always is very kind.”

Wadelski sported a “Kiss Me, I’m 100” baseball cap, and was called "King" by many of the staff members on Monday. He attributes his longevity to “wine, women, and song.”

Wadelski, originally from Rochester, NY, has a strong passion for music. He played the violin with the Detroit All City High School Orchestra, and performed for over 3,000 people alongside Paul Whiteman, one of the most popular band leaders in the 1920s. He became the Concert Master of his high school for three years, and earned scholarly praise that afforded him a trip to the White House.

He attended Detroit College of Pharmacy, transferred to Michigan State in the hopes of getting into medical school, but found the waiting long due to the depression. He then worked as a chemical engineer building oil refineries. He met his wife, Mildred, at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.

During his life, Wadelski was a flight test engineer in Sacramento, a naval ship engineer, a postman, a dairyman, hotel owner, and even a jewelry maker. It wasn’t until 1980 that Henry moved to Turlock for retirement. Even then, he found himself volunteering until he was over 90-years old.

“I never expected to live so long,” said Wadelski. “I was retired for over 30 years, and I had to occupy my life with something. I believed in helping others, so I volunteered over 30 years in nursing homes. It brought a lot of joy to my life knowing that I was in service.”

Wadelski has lived many places, but found that Turlock, a small village, was just what he was trying to find to settle down to cards.

For over 20 years, Wadelski kept music close to his heart, and played with the Turlock Senior Citizen Orchestra. This birthday, Wadelski was also granted a special visit from Ingram’s Music, who played him a heartfelt Happy Birthday song.

Though Wadelski never expected to live as long as he has, he wholeheartedly believes that life is a gamble. You just need to play your cards right.