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Lebanon's La-Z-Boy retires at 93

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The Chuckster - Chares Wise retires this week at 93. TENA LEE / The Wilson Post

When Charles Wise retires once and for all this week, the 93-year-old furniture salesman from Lebanon won't soon be forgotten by his co-workers at Hendersonville's La-Z-Boy Galleries.

The former World War II veteran who has worked in the furniture business for more than six decades has inspired them with his strong work ethic, good humor and selfless attitude, they say.

Assistant Manager Tim Schroeder has spent the last five years working alongside Wise.

"I usually tag someone with a nickname and one day I just blurted it out and he loved it, said Schroeder who affectionately calls Wise The Chuckster.

"His mind is sharp. He's here on time. He's just an ideal employee - and an ideal friend," Schroeder added. "As you can see, we tease each other a lot."

But that doesn't mean Wise doesn't take his job seriously.

He averages about $20,000 a month in sales, according to Schroeder - a pretty hefty amount considering the nonagenarian only works two days a week.

"He's just genuine," adds the assistant manager. "That's what people like the most about him."

Wise, who will turn 94 on Monday, admits his decision to finally retire wasn't an easy one. After all, he's done it twice before, each time finding that staying idle didn't suit him.

Born on Oct. 17, 1922 in Kansas City, Missouri, Wise's family moved to Southern California just before his sixth birthday.

Although his father owned a couple of furniture stores in Alhambra, Wise first worked at a tuxedo shop at the age of 18. There he earned just $10 a week helping a Hollywood tailor around the corner from Paramount Studios.

At the age of 19, Wise volunteered to go to war, enlisting in the U.S. Army on June 8, 1942. It wasn't until after the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive in early 1945, that Wise was dispatched overseas.

"The war was 90 percent over by the time we got there," he said.

When he returned he worked at a defense plant, a lumber yard, and then for a custom home builder before settling on his father's business - selling furniture.

Retirement didn't last

He first "retired" to North Carolina, moving with his wife Ethel there in 1995 and buying 17 acres in Hayesville.

"I thought I was going to retire, but it lasted about six months," he said. "I had to have something to do. I couldn't just sit around the house or work the 17 acres."

Wise ended up working in a furniture store there for another decade before moving to Lebanon.

Here, he has been commuting to the Hendersonville furniture store for more than eight years.

A little more than three years ago, Ethel, Wise's wife of 62 years, died of cancer.

Store manager Sherri Pokrzywinski says it was the only time Wise missed work at the store.

"He never misses, he's never late, he's like a model employee," said Pokrzywinski, adding Wise often wins over customers and co-workers by sharing funny stories from his past.

Wise often teases those who ask how he has been able to live such a long, healthy life.

"I tell them I have an apple a day," he jokes.

He then admitted that he smoked cigarettes until he was in his 60s, and that he enjoys a bourbon and water, not an apple, each day before dinner.

He also credits Ethel for taking such good care of him.

"We ate out very seldom," he said. "I had home-cooked meals for most of my life. She loved to cook and she loved her yard."

Wise said he plans to continue working in his yard and might even invest in some real estate when he retires. Still, he'll miss his customers and co-workers.

"I love what I do - just being with people," Wise chuckles. "You pretty much have my life story. Nothing fancy. Just a man who loves to work."

Writer Tena Lee may be contacted at tlee@mainstreetmediatn.com.

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