Charlie Zerphy is a man in motion and it doesn’t appear that he has any intention of slowing down.
“I am getting ready to head to Georgia this spring to complete some important ‘High Point’ climbs as I complete my goal of visiting the highest point in the 13 original colonies,” said Zerphy, 88.
Oh, by the way, before he started his current, county High Point climbing that now totals 860 in 15 states, Zerphy has done every state’s High Point except Alaska where he got stopped on Denali (20,310 feet — the highest point in North America) age 74 when two younger climbers gave up the assent.
Zerphy did not start High Point climbing until age 65 after he retired and is listed as the oldest person to officially begin High Pointing.
His climbing, as a senior, senior citizen should not surprise you when you learn that he raced motorcycles as a teenager, learned to fly balloons and airplanes and was active in the Civil Air Patrol for years, visited every state in the U.S. at least twice, and skied extensively with his wife and competed for years (winning some 35 NASTAR slalom races in his age class). He also took part in multiple senior games and won age group metals in running, weight lifting, discus throw, horseshoes and bocce, among other events.
Zerphy, an Elizabethtown native, had a long, working career in the printing and graphics field. He started work at the Elizabethtown Chronicle, a newspaper that operated from 1869 until 2009, before moving to Lancaster and Intelligencer Printing where he spent 42 years retiring in 1992 as customer service manager.
Superman, you say? No, Zerphy says he is just a regular guy who — with wife, Marilyn, of 66 years — has had had a life well lived and has lots more to do before he is finished.
Zerphy thinks he inherited the gene for adventure from his father (Charles Sr.) who played polo on motorcycles in the 1920s in and around Lancaster County — a sport that has long since disappeared. Zerphy raced Harley-Davidson motorcycles for years in “tourist trophy” competition over demanding dirt courses with both right and left turns and steeplechase-style jumps. “I never had a serious injury,” he says “or broke a bone. “I even raced motorcycles on the old beach course at Daytona (Fla.) in the late 1940s,” he smiles, “as well as a 150-miler on the historic Darlington Speedway in North Carolina.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree as Charlie and Marilyn’s son Charles raced motorcycles into his 20s too. And Zerphy says, he still takes an occasional spin on one of the three bikes stored in one of the buildings on his large farm near Mount Joy.
He married Marilyn in 1952 and they had three children and now are blessed with two grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Wife Marilyn smiles when she says the six-decade plus marriage has been an adventure as she took part in many of Charlie’s activities along the way.
Zerphy purchased a large 80-acre farm — wheat, alfalfa, corn and beef cattle — near Mount Joy in 1964 and with his wife and family worked it for decades. Over the years, he has sold some of the property and now leases the remaining land and farmhouse to tenants while living in a small, comfortable retirement home that he had a hand in building about a decade ago. He still is out on the large riding mowers each season tending to the property. And he also finds time to use a large, well-equipped woodshop in one of the farm’s outbuildings for toy and furniture making.
Zerphy learned to fly in 1978 and flew for the Civil Air Patrol doing search and rescue work for 22 years rising to the rank of Major. He also was part-owner of a four-seat, single engine plane out of the Lancaster Airport in Lititz and flew extensively with his wife around the United States and to the Caribbean on vacation. He still holds a world flight record: Oshkosh, Wis., to Lancaster of 5 hours, 48 minutes, 42 seconds. It was set in 1990 in a Cesna172 aircraft. Zerphy gave up flying a few years back but is still active in the Lancaster Aero Club and volunteers at the Lancaster Airport Community Day each year.
A former 23-year Republican committeeman for Lancaster County, Zerphy was a delegate to the 1988 Republican National Convention that nominated George H.W. Bush for the presidency.
A long-time hunter — with a variety of weapons — for big and small game, Zerphy was disappointed that he did not bring home, as he has done for many years, a buck or doe from the recently completed deer hunting season and says he’ll rectify that next year.
“I really had planned to throttle back my activities when I retired from Intel in 1992,” Zerphy said, “so Marilyn and I could do more traveling. We’ve traveled more,” he smiles, “but it hasn’t stopped me from keeping active with all my other hobbies too.”
“I’ve still got a few more of things on my bucket list to get to,” he said.