Local VFW founder celebrates 101st birthday

  • Friends and family sing Happy Birthday to Dick Skarnes, center, who tuned 101 Saturday at the Lance Corporal Christopher Camero Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Dick Skarnes grew up during the Great Depression, served in the armed forces in World War II, was founder of the local VFW and on Saturday celebrated his 101st birthday with family and friends.

Skarnes was born in northern Minnesota’s Red River Valley and when war broke out, he immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy “to get out of Minnesota.”

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He served convoy duty in the northern Atlantic for the duration of the war and returning to the states, settled in California, working for the Santa Fe Railroad. Over the years, he worked in various fields, and in 1982 retired as a heavy equipment salesman.

That’s when he and his wife, Beverly, moved to Kona. The two still maintain a home in Southern California and have been traveling back and forth ever since.

In 2012, Skarnes was asked to start a VFW post in Kona by the National Commander since he had been active in a Los Angelas chapter. In 2013, the Lance Corporal Christopher Camero Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122 moved into its location at the Old Swing Zone with Skarnes at the helm as Quartermaster. The Post was named in honor of Lance Cpl. Christopher Camero of Kailua Kona died on July 15, 2011, from wounds he received from earlier supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

However, the post was forced to leave after one year when Liliuokalani Trust would not renew thelease, eventually securing a space on Kaiwi Street in the Old Industrial Area four and a half years ago and that is where Skarnes celebrated his birthday will fellow vets and family.

“It’s pure luck I made it this far,” he said Saturday of reaching such a milestone. “Everybody is dying around me.”

With a sharp mind and a twinkle in his eye he added it must be his good Norwegian stock.

“That’s how I survived Minnesota,” he chuckled.

He said his 100th birthday was a celebration at a VFW post in Los Angeles with four generations present. With COVID-19, he wanted to keep the celebration small at the post he helped create.

He has stayed active, although a broken hip slowed him down three years ago. An avid golfer, he volunteered as a “walking scorer” at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai for 16 years. He was recognized as the oldest “walking scorer” traversing the whole course up until age 98 for the PGA Tour event.

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These days, Beverly said he gets up every morning to Baileys and coffee and a glass of orange juice before they get on with their day.

“If I can get up and walk and I’m in Kona, I’m happy,” he quipped.