Kenneth A. Haukom Sr. turns 100 years old Thursday.
The longtime Los Altos resident fondly remembers the days when Los Altos had a population of 16,000 instead of today’s 30,000.
“There weren’t any sidewalks then,” he recalled. “The only sidewalks were downtown.”
But even with a few more neighbors, Haukom wouldn’t want to celebrate his centennial anywhere else. The adventures he experienced and the friendships he forged in Los Altos have kept him young.
These days, on the eve of his 100th birthday, Haukom stays busy checking his mail, watering his lawn and following the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. You can also find him dancing with members of the Mid-Peninsula Widows and Widowers Association or stopping by the Los Altos Senior Center.
Born July 18, 1913, in Conrad, Mont., Haukom was the youngest of three siblings born into a family of Norwegian descent. He spent his early years moving from city to city in the Northwest and Midwest. Haukom spent many childhood summers in Minnesota, splashing around in irrigation ditches to keep cool, getting sunburned and even testing a gun on a friend. Needless to say, he didn’t hit his target.
In the winter of 1934, Haukom and a friend determined to hitchhike across the country. Trekking through knee-deep snow, they reached Chicago before they abandoned their pursuit to take a job driving cars in a caravan to California.
“I didn’t have a driver’s license then,” Haukom said. “So the guy who hired us asked me, ‘What’s your name?’ and I said ‘Ken Haukom.’ So he wrote that on a card, handed it to me, and said, ‘There’s your license.’”
While driving through the mountains in New Mexico, their massive car caravan blocked the only road through the steep and treacherous peaks. A 20-car-long line snaked out behind them, honking the entire time.
“We weren’t popular with anyone,” Haukom said with a chuckle.
Finally entering the Golden State, Haukom said they hadn’t realized it was illegal to drive between states with dealer license plates and were stopped by authorities. They waited in Needles overnight while paperwork was sorted out with the dealership. Although it wasn’t the cordial welcome he expected from California, he made the state his home and has stayed for nearly 80 years and counting.
A West Coast home
After his road trip to California, Haukom set out to sea on a Norwegian tanker to take pictures of Japanese facilities for the U.S. Department of Defense, known then as the U.S. War Department. He returned to the U.S. a year later and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1939.
Fast-forward to Christmas Eve 1940. Haukom married Beverly Rouse, his college sweetheart from the University of Minnesota. The couple met at a freshmen mixer, where Haukom was so intrigued by Beverly’s footwork that he asked her to dance.
“I said, ‘You’re a pretty great dancer.’ She said, ‘I dunno,’ so I said, ‘I dunno, either,’” Haukom said.
The couple moved to Los Altos in 1956 and raised their two children as Haukom worked as an engineer.
Following his retirement in 1978, Haukom and his wife visited 36 foreign countries and racked up 60,000 miles on their motorhome traveling the U.S.
When not on the road, he volunteered at a number of local charities, held a desk job at the Los Altos Senior Center and served on his church council for 16 years.
“He just likes people,” said Haukom’s son, Ken Jr. “He’s 102 percent Norwegian.”
After his beloved wife passed away in 1997, Haukom continued to nurture friendships old and new.
Haukom met Bess Whitaker – a widow who shares his love of theater, travel, TV and dancing – at a Widows and Widowers Association gathering.
“He was pretty good at the polka,” Whitaker said. “One day he told me, ‘Now we can do the three-legged polka – your two and my one.’”
Whitaker and Haukom have been dancing for 13 years straight.
After 100 years of living, Haukom shared his secrets to longevity.
“Stay involved, keep busy and don’t expect the world owes you anything,” he said.