No one who knew Vince Radtke took him seriously when he retired 30 years ago from Western State Hospital.
“Vince can’t sit still,” said Lee, his wife of 50 years.
Of course, she was correct. Since his retirement in 1985, Vince has built Daffodil Parade floats, operated a Parkland surplus store, rebuilt tractors and riding lawn mowers, and managed a 55-unit mobile home park in Arizona.
He’s helped shepherd his nine adult children, 22 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. And he’s survived nine surgeries on a cancerous bladder that was finally removed and rebuilt in 2005.
“I’ve been cancer-free since then,” said Vince, who turns 85 in two weeks.
In between all those jobs, Vince and Lee have done their fair share of gardening around their Gig Harbor mobile home. The specialty of the house? Tomatoes.
“I’ve got seven tomato plants that are 14 feet tall, and a few others that the birds planted,” Vince said. “Last year, we had a tomato that was one pound, 91/2 ounces. I took it to the doctor’s office and had them weigh it on a baby scale.”
That is a man who believes in being thorough.
At Western State Hospital, Vince ran a two-man garage that handled 78 vehicles, from forklifts to a fire truck. One day they might do a tuneup, the next he’d be rebuilding an engine or axle.
When he and Lee married in 1965, they both loved kids. She had three from a previous marriage, he had four, and they added a pair of foster kids.
As the boys came of age, Vince became a scoutmaster for Parkland’s Boy Scout Troop 303. In 1973, they built 10 fiberglass canoes and took 25 boys to explore the lakes of Canada.
A few years later, the troop bought an old school bus. Vince got it running like a top and drove 20 scouts to Alaska and back.
Lee got him involved with Daffodil floats. He built them in the family’s huge Parkland backyard.
“The first year, our base was an old Oldsmobile that broke down in Puyallup and had to be towed,” Vince said. “The next year I got hold of an old Air Force tug and extended the frame so the wheels were out 22 feet from the rear axle.
“It was 13 feet wide, 53 feet long. We won an award every year with that base …”
And then, there was that mobile home park.
“I called it a ‘senior delinquent center,’” Vince said. “We visited a friend there in Phoenix and, first thing I know, we had a trailer there. Then I was asked if I wanted to manage the park.
“I’ll tell you this: Seniors will argue over the size of a piece of cake. You had to be a diplomat to do that work.”
Bladder cancer toyed with him for more than a decade.
“I’d go in and have a tumor the size of a baseball, get treatment and look clean,” Vince said. “The next time I’d go in, there’d be a tumor the size of a golf ball.”
After eight surgeries, doctors told Vince the bladder was a mass of scar tissue that had to come out. At the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, surgeons built a bladder using some of Vince’s intestines.
A farm boy from Minnesota, Vince kept going. Lee, now 76, was born in Tacoma, and the two have been inseparable since they met.
“His knees are going, and he’s just tired,” Lee said. “On his birthday in two weeks, he’s going to retire again.”
“I’m trying to get out of the tractor-lawn mower thing,” Vince said. “I’ll take in a lawn mower, rebuild the engine, remount the blades and sell it from between $200 and $500 and it’ll be in better shape than some new ones.
“From now on, I’ll just build birdhouses. I’ve built some pretty unique ones.”
“I’ll overhaul dryers, refrigerators — anything mechanical,” Vince said. “If it’s broke, I can’t hurt it.
The couple, who have visited 25 countries, may keep doing a little travel, too.
“I’ve been to the funerals of a lot of guys who retired to watch football,” Vince said. “My philosophy is: You got to keep moving.”