97-year-old still enjoying ‘working in the dirt’

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His mother taught him to garden in 1928, 92 years later the founder of Poorman's Heating and Air is still at it

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – “No matter where we went we always had a garden someplace.”

At 97 years old, Max Poorman is never far away from a garden. It’s where he finds joy, the founder and namesake of Poorman’s Heating and Air says, and the place he’s spent so many summer days.

And this year is no different. Poorman, with the help of his oldest daughter, is tending to his 92nd vegetable and flower garden.

Poorman was born on July 12, 1923. He started gardening when was just 5 years old on his family’s farm south of Urbana–Champaign in Illinois. 

“I was just a little tyke and too small to go out in the field,” said Poorman. “So I’d go with my mom out to the garden and she taught me how to plant corn, radishes, everything.”

Once he was old enough, Poorman started helping his family by working on the farm. Picking a hundred bushels of corn was considered “a day’s work,” and that day’s work ran 5 a.m. until it was dark out.

“If you work, you get things done, and we did,” Poorman said. “It’s amazing you learn so much from being a farmer.”

After the Poorman family barn accidentally burned down when he was about 18 years old, they moved to Berne, Indiana. The land there was less expensive and they bought 120 acres.

Of course, Poorman used some of that land for a garden.

“I wasn’t married. I didn’t have a girlfriend or nothing. I just liked to work out in the dirt,” Poorman said with a laugh.

Eventually he did get a girlfriend named Mable, who later became his wife. While she didn’t work out in the garden with him, she would can, freeze or bake whatever he grew. Poorman said his late wife’s best dish was her zucchini pies.

Poorman has lived in his current house in New Haven for 60 years. He bought the vacant lot in 1959 and started building the house and doing its wiring and plumbing. Despite all of that work, he still found the time to maintain his garden.

He typically starts working on his garden in March or April every year. This year’s garden includes zucchini, kohlrabi, red and white radishes, tomatoes, green peppers, corn and flowers.

Even after 92 years, Poorman says he never gets tired of gardening.

“It’s so interesting, and you’re doing so many things all of the time that you don’t think about getting tired,” Poorman said. “I enjoy it immensely.”

Poorman has two daughters; his oldest helps him with his garden and his other daughter lives in Florida. He had a son who passed away almost 25 years ago.

When he wasn’t gardening, Poorman worked for Superior Fuel Company. After working there for 31 years, he started Poorman’s Heating and Air, which he later sold. The company is still named after him today.

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