Ivan “John” Samuel Bozin smiles as his great-grandson crawls onto his lap during a birthday celebration for both of them Thursday at the Clinton home he shares with family members.
John turned 100. Little Rahi Sanyal turned 1 years old.
“He wants to play,” John observes, as the squirrely toddler struggles to sit still in his great-grandfather’s lap. John lapses into Croatian as he holds the child fondly.
Born on the tiny island of Rava in Croatia, John immigrated to America with his parents and brother in 1929. Ninety years later, he lives on Whidbey with his son, Rob, and his daughter-in-law, Tricia.
He is no longer able to communicate very well, but by all accounts he seems happy and content.
His family members tell the story of his rich life, with appearances by Joe DiMaggio and John Wayne.
An athlete from a young age, John enjoyed playing both basketball and baseball. It was the latter his family remembers as being his favorite.
“Baseball was his first love,” his daughter-in-law, Tricia Bozin, said.
His caretaker, Merry Pickering, agrees. Tricia said he still enjoys playing a basic game of catch with Pickering from time to time.
The World War II veteran joined the Navy’s baseball team while serving. He had the honor of playing against future Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio.
While on leave, John eloped to Las Vegas with his wife, Louise. The taxi driver who drove them to their wedding served as both their best man and their witness.
While redeployed to Pearl Harbor, John threw a no-hitter for the Navy’s baseball team as their star pitcher. After three years and eight months of service, he was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned to his family in California.
Despite being a Navy man, John had habitual seasickness and declined to carry on his father’s fishing business. He instead pursued a career in contract work and building inspection.
As a building inspector for Santa Catalina Island, he had a star-studded cast of people he met, including John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
John traveled around the world in his retirement. About 10 years ago, his family took him to the Croatian island where he was born. He was worried he wouldn’t be able to speak the language, but it all came right back to him and still does today.
In a life full of working and living on islands, Whidbey is a fitting home for John. He was surrounded by family members on his and his great-grandson’s birthday. His grandfather lived until 102. Rob said John had expressed interest earlier in life in breaking that record, indicating that he wanted to “hang on” until then.
“People would ask him how long he would live, and he would say, ‘I’m going to break the family record,’” Rob said.
From what he can remember, the younger Bozin said, “He’s never spent a day in the hospital. We think he can make it to 105.”