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Epilogue | John Wisner

World War II veteran John Wisner devoured books, pumped iron

TAMPA — Until the Alzheimer's, John Wisner quietly maximized the output of both body and mind. He read a book a day, sometimes more. He lifted weights decades before millions were doing it.

In recent years, he had given up reading for old reruns of Dragnet or Adam-12. The rubber stoppers of his walker have streaked his parquet floors.

His wife, Lavonia, wrote each day's date on a piece of paper so he wouldn't keep asking.

Once, Mr. Wisner exuded health. Lavonia was a civil service worker at a Hickam Air Force Base during World War II when she saw the photo in a newsletter. Mr. Wisner, an amateur bodybuilder — nicknamed "the Body" — and the newsletter's officer of the month, posed in swim trunks with a surfboard on Waikiki Beach.

"I just tore it out because I thought he was handsome," said Lavonia Wisner, 88. Mr. Wisner left the Air Force as a captain; he was promoted to major in the reserves.

They married in 1946 and moved to Tampa five years later. He worked for an electrical supply company and traveled a lot, always taking a swimsuit with him.

As a boy growing up in New York, Mr. Wisner sought refuge from his family's economic hardships in the library and the YMCA.

He read thousands of detective novels and courtroom dramas from the library, and donated many he owned for library book sales.

"My dad read a book a day, every day, for as long as I can remember except for the last two years of his life," said Linda Sanford, 63. "He told me once, 'I just started with the A's in the library and went through that way.' "

Mr. Wisner retired in the early 1980s. For years, he taught a men's Bible class at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church.

A couple of years ago, Mrs. Wisner told her husband he needed to stop driving. She continued to take him to the Charles J. Fendig Public Library, where he checked out his bags of books.

But his family was noticing a change. Every now and then, he had an outburst of temper. A neurologist diagnosed Alzheimer's disease.

He remembered details his wife had forgotten, including the name of the movie they saw on their first date — but not what happened five minutes ago.

On the other hand, Sanford said, "My dad solved one of the Wheel of Fortune puzzles one night before I or my mother could, so he hadn't totally lost it."

On March 12, Mrs. Wisner was in the bathroom tugging on her husband's arm, trying to help him stand up. Just then, he seemed to go to sleep.

"It was the most peaceful thing I'd ever seen," she said. And so quick."

Mr. Wisner died shortly thereafter. He was 91.

His wife still carries a 65-year-old newsletter article in her wallet, with a photo of her muscular husband standing on Waikiki Beach.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


John Morse Wisner

Born: Oct. 9, 1919.

Died: March 12, 2011.

Survivors: Wife Lavonia; daughters Linda Sanford and Patricia Cain; son James Wisner; and two grandchildren.

World War II veteran John Wisner devoured books, pumped iron 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 7:51pm]
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