MASSENA — George Fairbanks can regularly be found enjoying time with friends at Massena’s South Main Street McDonald’s restaurant.
But Friday was a special gathering.
About a dozen of his friends had come ahead of time to surprise him with gifts, cake and well wishes in advance of his 100th birthday on Sept. 21.
As he sat in his regular seat, Mr. Fairbanks reflected on turning 100 years old.
“It feels about the same as it did the day before last,” he said.
He was born in New York City and later moved with his family to Scarsdale, Westchester County, where his father worked as a village engineer. Mr. Fairbanks spent many summers with his grandmother at her home “until the war got in the way.”
“What a delightful situation — the river, a bicycle, a BB gun, a fishing pole and friends for the summer,” Mr. Fairbanks said.
Those visits ended when his grandmother died while he was serving in the Air Force, and he ended up settling in Massena in 1965.
He served as a B-29 mechanic in the Pacific during World War II, “not anywhere near any of the shooting,” he said.
“Our planes were bombing Japan at night. Japan had no anti-aircraft defense, not even a spotlight. It was a case of fly over, check your radar and drop your bombs. It was an 18-hour round trip. I was waiting for them to come back,” Mr. Fairbanks said. “We never lost a plane. We never had a casualty except one automobile accident.”
He met his late wife, Sally, while attending college.
“She was a secretary, I was a student and we hit it off,” he said.
Along with a friend, they traveled to the Mohawk Valley, where they climbed mountains and explored caves. Things blossomed from there.
“It was one of the best moves I ever made,” Mr. Fairbanks said.
The couple later took an extended trip west, visiting Yellowstone Park and other sights.
“I borrowed my in-laws’ car and we had a pup tent, gasoline stove, sleeping bags and $500 in emergency funds. We camped out in a GI pup tent every night. We spent maybe three nights in a room. We made it all the way back home and I gave her parents back the car,” he said.
Settling in Massena, he took a position with Alcoa, which he said was “building up their forces.” He said they offered “kind of a package deal,” with a contractor hired to build a house to the worker’s specifications. That has been his home since 1965.
“One side was all Alcoa families. I’m the only one that’s left. They either died or moved out,” Mr. Fairbanks said.
He said he hasn’t regretted the decision to make Massena his home with his wife and daughters.
“Living in Massena has been a most delightful place to live. My kids grew up here,” he said.
At one time, the family belonged to a local yacht club.
“The four of us would take off and go for a cruise for a week, up the Rideau, on the St. Lawrence, around Lake Champlain. When they were big enough, the kids would sleep on the deck. The captain and first mate got the bunks,” Mr. Fairbanks said.
As he approaches 100, he still drives his yellow Lincoln.
“I’m cognizant. I’ve had no close calls, at least that I acknowledge. The ability to drive is very important to me,” he said.
That includes trips to visit his daughters, as well as his regular visit to McDonald’s, which began 30 years ago.
“It got to be kind of a club here. It started before they remodeled this place,” Mr. Fairbanks said.
He said he was visiting one day and noticed some other customers doing the same, wandered over, introduced himself and it’s been on his agenda since then.
Manager Robyn O’Neill said Mr. Fairbanks originally ordered a hamburger and milkshake, and then later switched to a hamburger and milk. She estimated that at $3 a day for five days a week, Mr. Fairbanks has spent more than $23,000 at the restaurant over the 30 years. Not so much anymore, Mr. Fairbanks said.
“You know, I’ve been mooching off these guys,” he joked.