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Gresham High class of 1944 takes stock of life, health

Graduates have already beaten their age expectancy
by: John Klicker, Don Balmer, right, calls for a show of hands as classmate John Welsh counts to see how fellow classmates have benefited from medical advances Friday, July 21.

Heads up, Baby Boomers, this is you in 20 years.

The Gresham Union High class of 1944, the parents of the Baby Boomers, met to celebrate a collective 80th birthday Friday, July 21, at Heidi's in Gresham.

Led by classmate Don Balmer, retired political science professor from Lewis and Clark College, they conducted a bit of a survey on what it's like to be 80.

Several had a hard time getting around the notion of 80.

'In my mind, I am 20 years younger most of the time,' said Lorraine Crane.

'In your mind, you're still the same,' agreed Barbara Place.

These are the people who remember world events from the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt to this week's rockets on Beirut. But they also can't, quipped Balmer, tell the difference between rap and hip-hop. They do remember when Portland had only two drive-in restaurants, Yaw's Top Notch and the Tik-Tok.

And there were only two or three kinds of shoes.

'Armishaw's saddle shoes,' someone said. And another woman added, 'Or if you couldn't afford those, Penney's.'

The Class of 1944, Balmer observed, was born in a time when life expectancy was 60 for men, 63 for women.

'We've already beaten the odds,' Balmer observed to the audience, attributing long life to advances in medicine.

Classmate John Welsh called for a show of hands among the 34 present to see how they have benefited from medical advances. The totals: 12 cataract surgeries; six hearing aids; two disc repairs in the back; eight knee surgeries (some twice) with a total of five new knees; four hips; four heart bypasses; one new valve, two stents; and eight cases of cancer.

Dorothy Larson of Corbett won the medical jackpot with 20 surgeries and one more to go.

'You're totally rebuilt,' said a tablemate.

Donnie and Norm Norquist claimed genetic permanence with 24 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren.

'We never were teenagers,' Balmer observed. 'We were either children or adults. I remember I went to enlist the Navy, and they swore us in and said, 'Men, you are now in the Navy,' and I looked around to see who they were talking to.'

Balmer asked one question that stumped most of those present. Was there a time in your life, he wondered, when $10,000 would have made a difference?

After thinking about it for a moment, Rae Chapman, who spent most of his professional musical career playing the guitar with a traveling country western band, the Tune Twisters, said that if he had the money, he would have liked to cut a record.

'And what about all your stuff,' Balmer asked, having recently scaled down from 2,400 to 700 square feet.

That sent a universal shudder through the Class of 1944.

The best advice, said Walt Ferrell, is to write your life story.

'Your grandchildren are going to benefit with what we leave on paper,' he said.

'And whatever you do, when you take a picture, please put the name of the people on the back,' added Lila Schweitzer, who has volunteered for the Gresham Historical Society.

When Balmer asked what classmates would do if they had a $1 million to leave in a will, education funds for grandchildren and great-grandchildren were suggested.

Regardless, Balmer observed, 'We already won the lottery by being born where and when we did.'