INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Morning walks became a way for Patricia Velde to reconnect with her father Charles “Chuck” Starcevich, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy before settling in the Sunshine State. The two would stroll at least a mile every day near his home along the West Vero Corridor.
“My dad was very strict and a disciplinarian when I was growing up. He wasn’t warm and fuzzy. But he did a lot of things with us and for us,” said Velde, 76, of Vero Beach. “Now, I’ve come to know him better. I have a tremendous appreciation for him as a father. The most exciting thing in my life is my 100-year-old dad.”
Those little walks Velde did as an adult with Starcevich opened up space for honest conversations, allowing the two to rekindle their bond as father and daughter. Starcevich’s longevity and healthy lifestyle can be attributed to a constant urge to keep his body moving, Velde said.
“He doesn’t have any diseases, walks around on his own, lives on his own, does his own laundry, and makes his own meals,” Velde said.
Velde described Starcevich as an extraordinary, ordinary man, hard worker and proud American. To Velde, and many others in the surrounding neighborhood, Starcevich is one of countless heroes whose military service decades ago allowed Americans to enjoy the freedoms held today.
“We call him ‘The Chuckster,'” Velde said. “He was always a very independent man. If something needed to be done, he’d do it.”
The accolades continue.
Last week, Starcevich’s family, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and community members held a special drive-by celebration recognizing the military veteran’s birthday. The surprise event was held outside of Starcevich’s home, with motorists rolling by, waving.
“It was an honor for me and our agency to celebrate this hero’s centennial birthday with him,” Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said. “My grandfather was a World War II veteran, and I miss him every day. So, it’s an honor even to spend a few minutes with someone from that Greatest Generation.”
Neighbors waved American flags as they followed behind sheriff’s motorcycles during the drive-by parade. Flowers presented Starcevich with the agency Honor Guard and Motor Unit Challenge coins.
“Those are decorative coins made for specific units to represent unity of membership in that unit,” sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Jaworski said. “They are typically given out or traded between law enforcement and military.”
It was a remarkable event as relatives and the community witnessed Starcevich reach the milestone of 100 years, an age that many don’t live to experience. Starcevich being a World War II veteran made the birthday celebration even more noteworthy.
“There’s not many left,” Velde said.
Serving in World War II was a big part of Starcevich’s life, Velde said. Velde said her father didn’t speak much about his war experience during Velde’s childhood, but talks about it all the time now.
“They packed them in box cars (railroad cars),” Velde said. “When they got to Africa, they had to sleep on the ground.”
Starcevich served as first class Shore Patrol in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946 in Africa, Italy and Sicily. He also served in war theaters across the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, including Pearl Harbor where his duty was to protect General George Patton Jr., who earlier commanded the Seventh U.S. Army in the Mediterranean theater.
Starcevich’s secret to longevity – regularly exercising and staying fit throughout his life, Velde said. Starcevich was born on Aug. 19, 1923, in Pekin, Illinois, and permanently moved in 1997 to Vero Beach.
“My father has always been physically active. He eats well. He used to water ski. He was once the second oldest dive master in the U.S.,” Velde said. “My dad used to go jogging every morning in his 70s and 80s in the neighborhood. I think being active all these years made a difference.”
Velde said her father was an avid golfer and fisherman. Starcevich worked as a supervisor and steamfitter for Standard Brands Inc. food company and also for several nuclear power plants before he retired and moved to Florida.
Velde recalled growing up near a lake, her father making fish nets and hosting fish fry events for the family.
“We called it ‘Chuck’s Traveling Fish Fry.’ He made them with oil and batter,” Velde said. “We had cherry trees and grape vines. He was always busy… always doing something.”
Velde also said her father is a man committed to his beliefs and true to his words.
Starcevich attends 7:30 a.m. mass every Sunday at St. John of the Cross Catholic Church, located behind Indian River Estates, Velde said. After church, Starcevich usually enjoys eating with family at Cracker Barrel restaurant.
Starcevich is also heavily involved with the Vero Beach Elks Lodge, a fraternal organization focused on charity, justice and community improvement.
Starcevich was married for 76 years to his wife Virginia. Virginia died five years ago at age 96, Velde said.
Out of eight siblings, Starcevich and his younger sister, in her 90s, are the only two still living. Starcevich has three children, four grandchildren, six great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Velde said her father is an honorable man who has lived a good life.
“He lived wherever he wanted to live and traveled wherever he wanted to travel,” Velde said. “He did everything he wanted to do in life.”
Photos provided by Indian River County Sheriff’s Office