Wendell Waldo Roscoe was about as self-made as they come. Mr. Roscoe taught himself how to pilot an airplane and play the piano. He embarked on a successful career as a local developer, creating the Pink Horse Ranch subdivision in the 1950s near Foothill College in Los Altos Hills.
“It can’t be done” was a phrase Mr. Roscoe never uttered. In his 100-plus years, he never shied away from a challenge – or adventure.
Mr. Roscoe, who celebrated his 100th birthday June 27, died Aug. 5 at his home in Mendocino.
Born in 1918, Mr. Roscoe’s first home was a one-bedroom cabin in the wilderness outside Sulphur Springs, Mont. He was the oldest of seven children born to Maebelle and Fenton Guy Roscoe, a homesteader turned United Brethren minister. The Roscoes had been married the year before.
A resourceful self-starter, his notable achievements began at a young age. While still in his teens, he bought an airplane and taught himself to fly.
Moving to Portland by his late teens, Mr. Roscoe quit college to continue flying.
He hitchhiked to California and got a job teaching Royal Air Force recruits to fly before the U.S. entered World War II. A case of tuberculosis kept him out of the war.
After his recovery, Mr. Roscoe began flying Pan American clippers between San Francisco and Honolulu. In 1941, he married Nancy Christopher of Portland, and they were together 76 years.
According to friends and family, Mr. Roscoe’s aviation career carried many hazards and even a few near-death experiences. He nearly ran out of gas over the mid-Pacific. He delivered the first airmail aircraft to Tahiti, but on one visit there, he was quarantined for polio.
He ferried airplanes to Communist China and leader Chiang Kai-shek, and nearly found himself trapped there. The Federal Aviation Administration awarded him the Wright Brothers Pilots Award for 50 years of accident-free flying.
Mr. Roscoe’s architectural and contracting skills stemmed from the addition of a garage to a small house where he lived in South San Francisco.
He moved from handyman to developer and contractor and building designer in Los Altos Hills, eventually designing and building spec homes at his Pink Horse Ranch.
Even as he approached the century mark, Mr. Roscoe continued to work. Recently, he served as an executive architectural adviser to Los Altos Community Investments, which has plans for renovating its 170 State St. property in downtown Los Altos.
“Wendell intuitively believes that one does not abandon competency,” one admirer said.
“I had a 50-year relationship with him,” said Abby Ahrens, longtime Los Altos area developer and owner of Enchanté Boutique Hotel in downtown Los Altos. “He was my mentor and had something to say about every building I did. … I had introduced him to LACI knowing he had designed the State Street building.”
Mr. Roscoe’s talents were many – he played piano “beautifully,” friends and family said, despite not reading a note of music, and by many accounts, he and his wife were accomplished dancers.
But perhaps his biggest talent was making everything he did look easy.
“From piano playing to architecture, he never seems to break a sweat,” said one friend.
“Some of dad’s joy’s in life were flying annually to the tip of Baja with family and friends,” said his daughter, Jill Medlam.
Other adventures included African excursions with family and numerous fishing trips to Alaska.
“He was an avid skier well into his 70’s,” Medlam said. “He taught me how to fly. He was glowing when I did my first solo.”
When asked about his keys to a long life, Mr. Roscoe replied, “patience, optimism and marry a good cook.”
Mr. Roscoe is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two siblings, Jill Madlem and Mike Roscoe, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.