Dewey Reaves is ready for a party Friday night.
It is a celebration most of us will never know, and if we do, odds are we won’t spend it on a dance floor.
On Friday, Mr. Dewey turns 100. He still lives without full-time assistance in a waterfront home on the Alabama side of Lake Oliver that he built with his own hands, mostly out of salvaged materials, in the 1970s. He spends the weekends with Carolyn Nesmith, his 90-year-old girlfriend.
Mr. Dewey is living the good life.
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If you want to keep up with him, it’s not that difficult. He’s active on Facebook and has been counting down the days until he hits the century mark.
You want to know the secret to making it to 100, ask him.
“Just eat good food — chew it 27 times,” Dewey said. “And you need eight to 10 hours sleep when you get old. Less than that when you you are younger.”
So, what do you consider old, Mr. Dewey?
“I don’t know, I ain’t got there yet,” he said, laughing away.
Another secret is a nightly nip of Scotch.
“Every now and then, I will have two, and on a special occasion I will have three,” he said.
Will Friday night’s celebration of his 100th birthday be a special occasion?
“Definitely,” he said. “I might even take four.”
When he talks about eating good food, he’s talking about fresh vegetables. Most of his life he’s kept a garden a few steps from the house, with peppers, pole beans, yellow squash and Better Boy tomatoes.
In fact, this week Mr. Dewey was looking for some help getting his tiller cranked so he could put this year’s crop in the ground. A skilled cabinetmaker in his youth, he still spends time in his woodworking shop, where he’s turned discarded wood into tables, chairs and countless pieces of furniture.
He started woodworking when he was 18 and recently quit, though the shop is now a retreat into the years that have faded away.
“I was afraid I would saw my finger off,” he said of his reason for quitting. “I haven’t built anything in about a year.”
There was never a shortage of old wood.
You see, for nearly 40 of his 100 years, Mr. Dewey tore up Columbus. He literally tore the place up —and was paid to do it.
In 1952, after running a cabinet shop in Albany, Ga., he moved back to Columbus to join his father at W.R. Reaves and Son, a local demolition company that was started after World War II. It later became Reaves Wrecking Company Inc., and the list of buildings Mr. Dewey and his crews dismantled is impressive.
He took down:
▪ The old Waverly Hotel on the site of the former Carmike corporate headquarters at 13th Street and First Avenue.
▪ The Elks Club and Paula’s Lounge in the 1300 block of Broadway on either side of what is now the Country’s restaurant.
▪ The old Sears building on Broadway.
▪ The first phase of Eagle & Phenix Mill in the mid-1970s on Front Avenue.
▪ Fred Ward’s Wrestling Arena on Front Avenue.
▪ The Armour Meat Packing building on Front Avenue.
▪ The Kilgore Funeral Home on Warm Springs Road where the Blue Cross/Blue Shield headquarters was built.
▪ An old ice plant at the corner of Broadway and Ninth Street.
The Eagle & Phenix Mill demolition was one of the last big jobs Mr. Dewey did, in 1979. His son, Bill, who took over the business, jokes it sent him into retirement in 1979.
There’s one aspect of that job that Mr. Dewey still talks about.
“The most amazing thing was cutting the walkway between 14th Street and the river that was an overhead walkway that connected one mill building to the other,” Mr. Dewey said. “I figured out how to cut it and move it. I had to get permission from the state because that was a state highway at the time. Cut it in two, backed it off with two cranes and put it on the ground.”
In a twist, one of the things that Reaves Wrecking did not demolish was the iconic downtown courthouse to make way for the Government Center. That contract went to an Atlanta company.
One of the stipulations was that a section of the sidewalk had to be removed and a temporary driveway put into the site, but Reaves would not be paid for that until three months after the job started.
“I didn’t figure on financing a city project,” he said of the reason for not taking the work, though they did sell the salvaged bricks from the site.
Ask Mr. Dewey how to tear down a building, and you get a simple answer.
“You put it in reverse from building it,” he said. “When you build it, you start at the bottom and go up. When you wreck it, you start at the top and go down.”
Mr. Dewey has lived a full life, starting at the bottom and going up.
He and his wife, Yvonne, were married for 55 years before she died in 1996. They have two children, Bill and Hazel, three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
He has owned 14 motorcycles and even delivered meals for the Goo Goo Restaurant, an old Columbus staple located near Linwood Cemetery. He’s driven produce routes between Columbus and Miami when his father managed the local farmer’s market.
There isn’t much Mr. Dewey hasn’t done or seen. He has lived through a depression, two world wars, a man walking on the moon and a technological revolution.
He’s fished most of his life and shot more than his fair share of birds.
You see him today, and he’s all there. Fiercely independent and proud.
Then, you walk away and think about it for a second. He was born in 1918, nine years before the television was invented and now he’s on Facebook.
We should all be so fortunate.