Peter Manes is approaching one of the biggest milestones of his life after a century of working with his hands and paying his gifts forward.
The resident of the retirement community Vi at La Jolla Village spoke with the La Lolla Light ahead of his 100th birthday next month — and National Centenarian’s Day on Sept. 22 — about his plans for the big day and the traits that brought him this far.
Manes said he is thus far unsure how he will celebrate becoming a centenarian Oct. 16, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person gatherings difficult to plan. He added there may be a virtual party via Zoom, or perhaps some other small party or maybe some travel.
Get the La Jolla Light weekly in your inbox
News, features and sports about La Jolla, every Thursday for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the La Jolla Light.
What is clear, however, is that even past his birthday, Manes will remain busy. It’s why he believes he’s lived so long.
“I’m so busy all the time,” he said. He’s been taking on projects of all sizes since childhood. He said his earliest memories of growing up in his native Berlin are of tinkering with electrical items.
“Even when I was very small in our big apartment in Germany, I did things with record players,” Manes said. “And then one of my father’s salesmen bought me a pickup [a device used to play records on a turntable], and I hooked that up to the wireless [player]. … I always did things. … I’m self-taught.”
He parlayed that hobby into a career in electrical engineering, Manes said.
Manes, who is of Jewish heritage, was sent to England by his father in 1935 to escape Nazi persecution. He lived there for 18 years and married his first wife, Inge, when he was 19.
Manes and his family, which later included two sons, moved to New York, followed by Cleveland and Los Angeles, as he worked for electrical engineering firms.
Manes persuaded some of the companies, which specialized in heating, to get into cooling as well, “which means you got business year-round,” he said.
Eventually, Manes had his own company, manufacturing cooling units for computer rooms.
“Anything that needs fixing, you don’t throw it away, you try and fix it.”
Three years after retiring, Manes and Inge moved to a house in La Jolla “right by the ocean on Camino de la Costa” in 1988.
Manes never retired his hands, however. He still keeps a home workshop where he carries out small projects or fixes things.
“Anything that needs fixing, you don’t throw it away, you try and fix it,” he said.
After Inge died in January 2010 after 70 years of marriage, Manes found comfort in charity, becoming involved in several nonprofit and arts organizations, including North Coast Repertory Theatre and Mainly Mozart, serving on boards or making donations.
Later in 2010, Manes was sent to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla with an infection, where he said he “met lots of people who really were very good to me.” That inspired him to donate time and money to the Scripps Health Foundation.
It was through this charitable work that he met Yoko Sakaguchi in June 2010. She was a widow who was involved in fundraising for the same organization. A mutual contact connected Manes and Sakaguchi because of their shared interest in music and theater, Manes said, and the two met and have been a pair since, marrying in July 2014.
Manes said he was miserable before he met Sakaguchi and that she inspired him to become a better person.
The couple have continued their charitable donations and fundraising efforts, as well as traveling and “having fun,” Manes said.
“I was brought up in a very comfortable middle-class house,” he said. “I always felt, ‘Why am I privileged?’ I feel we are pretty well off. But there’s so many people in very, very bad conditions not their own doing.”
Manes said he advises younger people to “help whenever you can to make somebody else’s life better.”
He also encourages others to speak with “honesty,” and “don’t take advantage of people.”
Manes said he’s not sure what his future holds, but he knows it will involve his beloved projects. “I can’t live without tools.”
La Jolla Centenarians is an occasional series in the Light. If you know a La Jollan who is or is about to be at least 100 years old, email [email protected] ◆