June 24th, 2024

Celebrating 100 years with a lifetime of memories

By Al Beeber on August 28, 2021.

Herald photo by Al Beeber - Dan Rohovie is still adding to a lifetime of memories as he prepares to celebrate his 100th birthday on Sept. 11.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

He watched an Air Force colleague die in a crash and nearly lost his freedom after taking photos in a restricted zone in Romania while travelling Europe.
And Dan Rohovie is still making memories as he approaches his 100th birthday on Sept. 11.
Rohovie, a long-time Canadian Pacific Railway engineer who grew up in Coalhurst, is looking forward to the milestone, he said in an interview Thursday at Extendicare Fairmont where he’s lived for several years, alone since his beloved wife Rose died in 2016.
His daughter Dianne Hansen is planning a small birthday gathering for her dad, a party limited to a maximum of 15 people because of COVID restrictions.
His plan for that day, Rohovie joked, is “to get good and drunk,” a comment that prompted Dianne to quickly tell him he’s going to have a drink and it will just be a sip.
“We’re going to have a good time,” smiled Rohovie. That good time will include an accordion player brought in for the festivities.
At 100, Rohovie still likes his red wine and a specific kind – Cote du Rhone Villages, a French wine appellation produced in the southern Rhone region.
“That’s my favourite wine,” he said, repeating the name.
“He won’t drink it because it’s not a cheap wine,” he laughed, pointing at nephew Dave Rohovie who used to take his uncle to coffee at Tim Horton’s regularly until a couple of years ago.
Rohovie spent 42 years with the Canadian Pacific Railway, working the south region in Alberta on a route that included the Crowsnest Pass, Calgary and Medicine Hat. He was promoted to engineer in November 1949.
He’s fond of his days with the railway and remembers them with clarity.
“We had three districts in Alberta. We could exercise our seniority. Your seniority entitled you to take a job,” he recalled.
He had many good friends in the CPR but didn’t get too familiar with conductors and brakemen, he said.
“We never had a chance to associate ourselves with the brakemen and conductors. You listen to the conductor and he thinks he runs the train. Well the conductor doesn’t do a damn thing. All he does is bring me the train orders and sits in the office, waiting for the switches to be done and the train to be picked up. It’s the engineer that does all the thinking,” he said, prompting laughs from his family.
“Listen to the engineer, he’s pulling it, he’s handling it and he’s doing all the things needed to move that train. The engineer, he’s the head boy. At least I think so,” said Rohovie, who is clearly still passionate about his railway career.
He started with the CPR in 1942 as a wiper and shortly after joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in August as a pilot, where he flew smaller planes. He met his wife while stationed in Regina and served with the RCAF until 1945. Upon returning to civilian life, he was turned down for a job at a hardware store and went back to the railway where he worked until his retirement on Jan. 5, 1982.
While stationed in B.C., he watched from a tower as an RCAF sergeant buzzed the runway just above the hangars in a B-25 Mitchell bomber before plummeting to the earth. The pilot had just earlier ditched a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber before jumping into the cockpit of the B-25 Mitchell.
While travelling with wife Rose, whose heritage like Rohovie’s is Romanian, he was detained after taking photos of a restricted area. Rose, who spoke Romanian, managed to secure her husband’s release, but not before his film was confiscated and destroyed.
Growing up in southern Alberta, Rohovie and his friends would regularly jump on CPR passenger trains at Coalhurst and take a joy ride into Lethbridge, he recalled.
“We knew the set-up,” Rohovie recalled, saying that when leaving stations, trains would accelerate then slow so the crew could test its brakes.
While living in Coalhurst, he nearly lost his father in the mine disaster of Dec. 9, 1935 that killed 16. His dad was supposed to be in the mine but was working up top because his wife was expecting to give birth. He lived to see that birth later in the day, a daughter the couple named Helen.
“We’re all very thankful,” he said.
He attributes his longevity to “lots of hugs and kisses.” Daughter Dianne said he also eats raw onions every day.
An avid photographer and traveller, Rohovie used to tour Europe in a van “with Canada in big block letters on both sides,” he recalled. He and Rose toured everywhere, preferring to visit smaller towns away from bigger cities where he said “you really see the country.” The couple visited Hawaii between 10 and 15 times and also travelled to Mexico.
He is still appreciative of Rose getting him out of trouble in Romania.
“My wife could speak Romanian so she talked him (a guard) out of sending me to Siberia.”
Until they moved to Extendicare in 2016, the Rohovies lived in a house on 17 St. S. near the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute that they bought in 1950 and watched the city grow around them.
“There was just Prairie,” said his daughter.
“It was a nice area, very quiet,” added Rohovie.
As he nears 100, Rohovie’s memory is sharp and he has a strong grip, insisting on a firm handshake with a visitor.
Rohovie was always active in his life, riding a bicycle everywhere and he took up curling after retirement playing third.
And with 100 approaching, he’s looking forward to that special day – and a sip of Cote du Rhone Villages.

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