National News

First foes, now roomies

Posted June 20, 2018 7:07 a.m. EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. _ The basic facts of the lives of Wayne Davis, 90, and Guenther Langner, 91, would suggest that the pair _ temporary roommates in a rehab facility _ were on opposite sides of one conflict 70 years ago, and today they're on opposite sides of another.

Davis, who grew up in Otsego County, joined the U.S. Army for World War II and voted for Donald Trump, while Langner served in the military in his native Germany at the end of the war and cast his 2016 vote for Hillary Clinton.

But their individual stories, intricate in nuance and rich in accomplishment, reveal much in common. For starters, both worked for IBM in the Hudson Valley.

Davis was there in the early 1950s, where he witnessed the earliest models of IBM's mainframe computer, the size of half a room, and later sold typewriters for the company in the Midwest before spending decades as an attorney, including a stint in the state Attorney General's office.

After the war, Langner earned a doctorate in theoretical physics and in 1967 was invited to come to America work for IBM. The company, as he said in his German-accented English, was part of the effort that was trying "to make true the promise of (President) Kennedy to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade." By the time he left more than 25 years later, he had been granted, solo or with partners, 14 patents for his work with electron beams and computer chips, among other pursuits.

Their paths never crossed until 50 years later, when, single after spousal death or divorce, they were both residents of Beltrone Living Center, a senior residence in Colonie.

"I don't think I knew him there," said Davis.

"We did. His memory has some holes," said Langner. "It's from the stroke."

The stroke brought Davis to Hudson Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center 11 months ago. He's eager to leave and trying to figure out whether he can go back to Beltrone or, if not, to somewhere else. He's been discussing this with Langner, who has shared his room for the past two and a half weeks. Hudson Park was Langner's next stop after the hospital, where he landed after an infection got out of control. (He also has advanced prostate cancer.) He believes he could be discharged by the end of this week.

"I've had 28 roommates since I got here," said Davis. "He's in the top three. Believe me, you don't want to hear about the bottom three."

Both were still driving before their respective medical crises. Both want to get back behind the wheel, but Davis grumbles that Hudson Park staff won't let him have his keys, and Langner allows that he may not yet be up to the task.

"I probably should take a driver's course first," he said.

They've found much to talk about. They compare insurance and retirement savings, for instance. Langner has both in abundance: "IBM has been very generous." Davis does not, as a result of only short service in a senior state job followed by years and years in private law practice with cases more rewarding as noble pursuits than as wallet-fillers. One of Langner's daughters, a psychiatrist at the local VA hospital, visits him every day. There are five grandchildren, including one who's a French teacher. Davis occasionally sees one of his daughters, who lives locally in a group home for people with developmental disabilities, but his other two offspring live out of state, he said, and communication is occasional, visits less so.

They also have a common opinion on the mess America is in today.

"I voted for that guy," Davis said of Trump, shaking his head, "but if I could take it back 100 times, I would."

Langner became an American citizen in 1974 as part of the requirements of the government security clearance needed for his IBM work. He said, shaking his head even more glumly than Davis had, "I did vote for Hillary, but the Democrats have made so many big mistakes. I don't know who there will be to vote for the next time, but it's really important!"

Davis will be sad to see his latest roommate go. "He's lucky _ he gets to leave," he said, lamenting the uncertainty of his own situation.

He said, "When you get to be our age, all of your friends are dead, your family is spread out, and everybody else is interested in the little things that you don't care about at all. It's nice just to have somebody to talk to who has half a brain."

"This," said Langner, "this is true."

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