One of Harold Fisher's favorite lines is "People who retire early die early."
It's no wonder, then, that the 100-year-old architect — who still works five days a week at the Michigan firm he founded — is being honored in Washington, D.C., today as "America's Oldest Worker."
Fisher, a native of Grosse Pointe, Mich., is receiving the award from Green Thumb, a national non-profit organization that provides job training and employment to America's seniors. The presentation takes place at the American Institute of Architects, of which Fisher is a member emeritus.
Specializing in church architecture, Fisher started Harold H. Fisher & Associates in 1945 outside Detroit. Since then, he has designed nearly 500 churches in Michigan, the Midwest and around the country. They have provided places of worship for the members of 50 different religious denominations.
Asked how he feels to be recognized for still showing up to work at his age, Fisher chuckled. "I just kept on living," he said. "I love my work, I love designing. It's kept me alive."
The Beauty of the Church
Fisher, born October 28, 1901, got his first taste of church architecture as an apprentice earning $2 a day in Uniontown, Pa. He credits his solid training in classical architecture to his studies at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York.
Why churches? In addition to the influence of a strongly religious upbringing, Fisher says the traditional beauty of the buildings drew his interest. "If you like design, you get most of it in churches and theaters. So I've put my life into church work."
Two of Fisher's personal favorites among his work in his native Detroit area are St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Church Ravanica and Westminster Presbyterian Church, his first major project. With hundreds of churches under his belt, Fisher insists that no two of his designs are alike. But all of them, he hopes, help people feel welcome in their faith and draw them closer to their church.
"When you say you'll find peace and closeness to Christ within the church, you have to have that in the design," Fisher said.
One of his first stops in Washington after arriving early for the awards ceremony this weekend was a place he cites as one of his favorite inspirations: Washington's majestic National Cathedral. He recalled the first visit he made to the nation's capital to marvel at its architectural beauty at age 30 — way back in 1931.
‘I’m Only 100’
Fisher says he still wakes up every day with new ideas and that even after 85 years in the business, he's still learning.
"Designing is thrilling to me and I have designs running through my head all the time," he said. "I don't think of it as work."
After living through just about all of the 20th century, doesn't the country's oldest worker ever consider the leisurely and quiet life of retirement? Not in his lifetime.
"If I would retire, what would I retire to?" he asked puzzledly. "I'm doing what I love to do."
Fisher tries to inspire his fellow seniors on the importance of finding something to wake up for every day.
"If they have something that will keep them working, they don't die of despair," he said. "You have to be interested and keep busy."
Outside of work, Fisher keeps his body active with twice-a-week workouts at the gym (which he joined at age 70). He also recently took up yoga with one of his nine children, the oldest of whom is now 75.
For someone who says he can hardly wait every day to get to the office, having reached an age to become the oldest working American is an achievement Fisher has barely noticed.
"I'm only 100 and I'm on my way to 110 at least," Fisher said smiling. "Death isn't on my mind at all."