Engineering longevity: Santa Clarita man celebrates 101st birthday

David Gilbert smiles as he prepares to blow out his candles during his 101st birthday party celebration at the Red Lobster in Valencia. He was born in 1916, and has lived in Santa Clarita for 43 years. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

By Andrew Clark | Signal Staff Writer

In David Gilbert’s home, the portraits hanging on the walls tell the story of a life well-lived.

A 43-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley, Gilbert celebrated his 101st birthday Tuesday by recalling a life of travel, aircraft engineering and mile-long morning walks, the latter of which he still does.

“I like to see people, say, ‘Hello,’ and ‘good morning,’” he said, adding that he frequents the Valencia paseos. “I always like to exercise and things like that.”

Gilbert said the he and his wife would walk together and travel the world — from Europe to China. “We spent a lot of time in Switzerland,” he said.

Gilbert grew up in South Bend, Indiana, rooting for the hometown Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team during their string of national championships in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

David Gilbert, left, smiles as he walks into The Red Lobster with his family in Valencia on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. He was celebrating his 101st birthday at the restaurant. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

“I could walk there, go to the games,” he said. “I knew Knute Rockne.”

Gilbert served three and a half years in the Navy during World War II and was assigned to a tugboat built in Alameda to work in the Pacific Theater.

“I went out on a trial run and all I was doing was throwing up,” he said with a chuckle, recalling a voyage off of Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

The tug boat would tow damaged ships to dry dock where they would then be raised for repairs. After the war, Gilbert returned to Indiana where he married his wife, Lucille, who served in the Coast Guard off of Florida during the war. The couple’s honorable discharges hang on the stairwell in Gilbert’s home.

David Gilbert looks on at birthday candles are lit for him at The Red Lobster in Valencia on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

A portrait of Lucille, who passed away in 2006, resides on a wall near the kitchen. He has two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Gilbert, a member of American Legion Post No. 507 in Newhall, worked primarily for Hughes Aircraft as a procurement engineer, driving from his Los Angeles home to the company’s missile plant in Culver City. He also had stints with airframe systems designer HR Textron, Sylmar-based semiconductor firm Spectrolab and briefly worked for Trans World Airlines at LAX.

Gilbert and his home survived a scary moment in March when a “loud boom” woke him around midnight.

“Somebody crashed through my garage and into my house,” he said. “They came right through my metal door and into the closet.”

The house was repaired by insurance, Gilbert said.

Also hanging on the wall is a commendation signed by Mayor Cameron Smyth and city councilmembers Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean and Bob Kellar congratulating him on his 100th birthday last year.

“May your special day,” the commendation reads, “be filled with sunshine, smiles, laughter and love.”

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