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Pa. attorney, 87, rides bike to work

June 12, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Among the law degrees and licenses on the walls of Rudolf Wertime's office are six large photographs with head shots of most lawyers in the Franklin County Bar Association over the last six decades.

Wertime's picture is on all six photographs.

The first was taken in 1941, five years after he was sworn in to the Franklin County Bar by Judge Watson R. Davison on Oct. 12, 1936.

Once every decade members of the bar pose for the photos, said Wertime, the bar's oldest and longest-serving member. The photos represent Wertime's life as a small-town lawyer beginning with his youthful countenance in 1940 to his photo in the 1996 collage from which peers a face that has been graced by 87 years of living.

Wertime said he's "a relic of the past." His office furniture supports the claim.

He sits behind an old oak desk that he bought when he was a young lawyer for $100. In front of the desk sit two oak chairs that his parents bought on their honeymoon 88 years ago. There is no computer in the office. "I wouldn't even know how to turn one on," he said.

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He dictates letters to secretaries whom he said are a rarity in today's modern law office in that they still take perfect dictation. "It comes back just like I gave it to them."

Wertime types on the Smith-Coroner typewriter that he bought the year he joined the bar. "It's a beautiful machine."

On good days Wertime rides his bicycle to work, the same Schwinn Racer that he's been riding for 38 years. A wire basket up front carries his legal papers.

Wertime figures he's ridden the bicycle about 60,000 miles over nearly four decades. He got it from his son, Robert, in 1961 when the boy was nine years old. "He didn't want it anymore so I put wide tires on it and used it myself," he said.

"I ride the bike for physical exercise," he said. "You can get a fat rear end in a hurry sitting in a law office."

Wertime said he used to ride about 40 miles a week on the road in addition to the nearly 5 miles to and from work morning and night plus trips home for lunch. He said traffic has gotten too heavy for anything but his daily commute to the office by bicycle so he rides an exercise bike every day at home.

The effort seems to have paid off. He's nearly 90 years old, but he's hale, hearty and spry with hardly a limp to his gait although he said arthritis is beginning to catch up with him. "That's why I ride my bike, to keep in shape. I'm having a little trouble with my knee and hip and I'm hoping to avoid surgery," he said.

Wertime's memory has kept pace, too. He rattles off dates of the events that shaped his life. "My father died on Feb. 25, 1929. My mother on Jan. 29, 1971. I got my law degree from Dickinson (College) in June 1935, took the bar exam in January 1936 and was notified that I passed in April 1936. "I was sworn in by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Sept. 28, 1936."

He said his mother, Flora Montgomery Wertime, was 40 when his father died. "She raised six children on her own and all of us went to college," Wertime said. He is the oldest sibling.

Wertime was a partner in a Chambersburg, Pa., law firm for most of his career, but he has kept a Greencastle office since 1939. Today he is a senior partner in the firm of Wertime and Guyer. It includes his son, David C. Wertime. In between he served as Franklin County District Attorney from 1948 to 1956.

He said he has slowed down some, taking only the cases that interest him now. His specialty is real estate and estate planning and settlement. He said his partners, J. Dennis Guyer and his son, David C. Wertime, often come to his office seeking advice. The law office is in Greencastle's John L. Grove Medical Center.

"People ask me all the time about when I'm going to retire. I'm not under pressure to retire and the Lord hasn't told me when to quit. I'm doing what I want to do. I work here and I tend to my three gardens on Wednesdays. I don't come to the office on Wednesdays."

Wertime and his wife, Phyllis Jane, "P.J." to all who know her, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Dec. 28.

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