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Harry K. Wolf, among the world’s oldest ham radio operators, dies at 107 in Morro Bay

Morro Bay resident Harry Wolf died in January two weeks before his 108th birthday. He was one of the world’s oldest active ham radio operators, communicating via Morse code. He’s pictured here in a February 2016 photo.
Morro Bay resident Harry Wolf died in January two weeks before his 108th birthday. He was one of the world’s oldest active ham radio operators, communicating via Morse code. He’s pictured here in a February 2016 photo. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A Paso Robles native who was believed to be one of the oldest ham radio operators in the world died last month, two weeks before he was to turn 108.

Harry K. Wolf, a navigation instructor for Navy pilots during World War II who jump-started Cal Poly’s electrical engineering program in the 1940s, was born Jan. 29, 1909, on a Paso Robles ranch in an area now called Ground Squirrel Hollow. He died Jan. 15, having lived his latter years in Morro Bay.

In the 1920s, he was a bat boy for the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball team when they held spring training in Paso Robles and also was an extra in a Hoot Gibson silent Western film shot in the Paso Robles area.

He lived such a fantastic life. He was very social. At 107, you’d think that he probably wouldn’t have much of a funeral because he wouldn’t have many friends around at that age. We called it a birthday memorial, not a funeral. More than 100 people showed up.

Vicki Ryal, daughter

Wolf, profiled in The Tribune last year, remained mentally sharp until the last day of his life, said his daughter Vicki Ryal.

“He lived such a fantastic life,” Ryal said. “He was very social. At 107, you’d think that he probably wouldn’t have much of a funeral because he wouldn’t have many friends around at that age. We called it a birthday memorial, not a funeral. More than 100 people showed up.”

In recent years, though Wolf had lost nearly all of his hearing, he communicated through written notes and still played cards with family members.

Wolf watched “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” at night with the assistance of closed captioning to keep his mind active, having lived through many of the historical and cultural events queried on the show.

Wolf, a member of the Estero Radio Club, even checked in every Tuesday on his ham radio as part of a local emergency preparedness program.

“Two days before his passing, he was still lucid,” Ryal said. “I was responsible for signing his checks, as his power of attorney, but he still wanted to know what he was paying. He still wanted to be involved.”

A ham radio enthusiast, Wolf fashioned his own radio as a teenager in Paso Robles, long before others had them at home, and maintained a fascination with radio throughout his life. Barely able to hear, he’d crank up the volume of his ham radio and use Morse code.

In my opinion, if you reduce your food intake, you will live two to four years longer.

Harry K. Wolf

Wolf taught navigation, physics and electrical engineering at Cal Poly for 31 years.

He traveled around the world nine times with his wife, Nathalie, who died in 2005 at the age of 96. They lived in Africa and Hong Kong while he consulted in electronics. He also developed standards for equipment used in the space program.

Wolf is survived by his daughters Jacquelyn Bode and Ryal. Wolf outlived his son, Gerald Wolf.

His family wrote in an obituary that Wolf lived from the horse and buggy age into the space age. He wrote a 294-page autobiography, “The Oak Tree,” starting the story on his family’s 320-acre farm with a house shaded by a single oak tree. It was published near his 100th birthday.

Last year, Wolf told The Tribune that he typically drank two glasses of wine a day and recommended eating less to live a long life.

“In my opinion, if you reduce your food intake, you will live two to four years longer,” Wolf said.

Good genes helped him. His cousin, Ella Adams, was 103 years old when she died in Atascadero in 2010.

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