BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A local veteran, community leader and business owner celebrated his 98th birthday.

Ray Mish has been a pillar of the Bakersfield community, helping countless families for decades as the owner and funeral director of Mission Family Mortuary.

Mish is loved by the community. He’s been working in the funeral business since he was 12 years old and now he’s celebrated his birthday surrounded by friends and family.

Ray Mish celebrated his 98th birthday. Dozens of friends and fellow vets packed the courtyard of his mortuary in Central Bakersfield.

But that age is just on paper. He actually turned 97. He’s 98 on Government records because he lied about his age to fight in World War II.

“I saw a sign of Uncle Sam with his finger pointed at me and it said I need you and at 17 years old and a stupid kid what are you going to do,” Ray Mish the owner and funeral director of Mission Family Mortuary said. “If you need me buddy here I am.”

Everyone who knows him has only good things to say about him. Some saying he’s the role model everyone should follow.

“He’s just a great guy,” Ron and Cindy Bluestone Mish’s family members said. “He sets the bar real high for everyone. He really is. So loving compassionate, giving, caring, anything you can think of that’s good is Ray.”

Mish sees the funeral business as helping others who are in pain.

“You know, taking care of people when they hurt is not easy,” Mish said. “But every person I’ve ever taken care of always came back to say thank you very much and that means a lot to me.”

Mish has a son, but his daughter and wife have already passed away.

“Thank you very much for being my friend because I’m a millionaire many times over,” Mish said. “I’m just Ray Mish with a million friends and that means a lot.”

Mish said he’s extremely grateful to everyone who came out to celebrate his birthday.