Marty Sherbecoe is a World War II veteran and will soon join the centenarian club but that’s not his local claim to fame.
To friends and neighbors, the Gilbert resident is known as “The Bread Man.”
“I never wanted to bake bread,” then he said, but once he got his hands on some dough, there was no turning back.
Sherbecoe, 99, said he and his wife were visiting one of their sons, who at the time owned a home bread machine introduced into the U.S. market just five years prior.
His wife, Beverly, saw the machine and wanted one, too.
“So I said, ‘All right, I’ll get you one but because you never read instructions, I’ll make the first loaf and show you how,’” the retired industrial engineer recalled.
That was 26 years ago.
Since then, his wife passed and Sherbecoe graduated well beyond automatic bread machines.
Today, he uses an 88-year-old restored candy scale to weigh the high-protein flour and a KitchenAid commercial mixer to knead his dough, which he shapes by hand after the rise and scores with a lame he crafted from a teaspoon and razor blade.
Recently, he purchased a Miele steam oven.
“What it does is keep the top of the bread soft so you get a full oven spring,” he said of his new kitchen tool.
In bread making, an oven spring is the final burst of rising just after a loaf is put in the oven and before the crust hardens.
Sherbecoe bakes two to three times a week churning out loaves - including rye, olive, sourdough, brioche and ciabatta. He also makes bialys and cinnamon rolls.
He’s taught two classes on bread making and has a tutorial on “How to bake rustic breads” posted on YouTube.
Sherbecoe explained his attraction to bread making.
“First of all, I like to eat it,” he said. “And secondly, I’ve found if people you are baking for, if it’s a cake one thing right away is they’re concerned with the calories. Bread is very low-calorie because there’s very little or no oil or sugar.”
He shared his baked goods with first responders, his doctor, friends and neighbors. He’s even baked a bunch of olive bread one time to donate for a fundraiser.
“Usually when I go out to a place where there’s a group of people, the first thing they say is ‘here comes the bread man,’” Sherbecoe said.
Sherbecoe’s personal favorite to eat is ciabatta, an Italian white bread.
“It’s very good toast,” he said, “and an excellent French toast and very good garlic bread.”
Sherbecoe said he used to bake a lot more but late last year, he had a pacemaker implant.
“My pulse rate was low, so low I passed out at a market,” he said.
He fell, banged his head and was in the hospital for five days and rehab for 26.
Bread isn’t the only treat Sherbecoe whips up in the kitchen. He also makes pickled green tomatoes and “some of the best sauerkraut around.”
And, he said, “my beef jerky is very, very thin, so it almost melts in your mouth.”
He’s sent a package of his jerky to actor Gary Sinise, a well-known advocate for American service members.
Sherbecoe, who was in the Navy from 1944-46 and volunteered to serve on PT boats, was training for the first-wave landing in Japan but then the bombs fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said.
The atomic bombs effectively ended the war and Sherbecoe was sent to Japan on occupational duty for eight months.
Sherbecoe said he considered Sinise a friend and has a picture of the two and an autographed picture of Sinise in his living room.
Sherbecoe first met Sinise four years ago. The Gary Sinise Foundation sponsors WW II veterans and their guardians on trips to visit the official WWII Museum in New Orleans and Sherbecoe got to go in 2016.
“When he found out I was on a PT boat, he came over and talked to me,” Sherbecoe said. “He and I became friends.”
And, when the museum restored PT-305, Sinise sent Sherbecoe on an all-expense-paid trip to the patrol-torpedo boat’s dedication in 2017.
Sherbecoe said he plans to keep his on Feb. 26 low-key – he’s taking a trip to California and family members will be making a visit.
Sherbecoe said his recipe for longevity is simple – good genes, never smoked and plenty of fruit and fresh vegetables.
Turning 100, though, is bitter-sweet for him.
“My hands are not steady as it used to be,” Sherbecoe said. “Unfortunately, in a way, it’s nice to be 100 but at the same token, you have to pay your dues in a way because things are not the same.”