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Younger than his years

Beaverton senior finds pleasure in volunteering at home and abroad
by: Jaime Valdez Wayne Hess, 76, works out in the fitness room of the Elsie Stuhr Center while bantering with Center Supervisor Linda Jo Enger. She says Hess makes the perfect poster boy for Older Americans Month in May.

Wayne Hess admits he spreads himself a bit thin.

Just the other day, the Beaverton resident showed up to cook breakfast for the men's group at his church only to ditch the main event in time to be part of a friend's memorial service in Wenatchee, Wash.

As soon as he brought on Portland Trail Blazers Chaplain Al Egg, Hess says he was outta there.

'I introduced the speaker, made a comment and said, 'But I have to leave,'' the 76-year-old recalls with a chuckle. 'I'm like a kid with two ice cream cones on a hot day. 'Which one do I lick first?''

That restless drive and devil-may-care approach has colored Hess' entire life.

The retired certified public accountant effortlessly fills his hours and days with activities from volunteering and mentoring - in no fewer than 13 groups and organizations - to maintaining his physical fitness at the Elsie Stuhr Adult Leisure Center in downtown Beaverton.

'I volunteer wherever I'm asked,' he says. 'My wife says I have to work up to get a 'no' button.'

Aging gracefully

Linda Jo Enger, supervisor at the Stuhr Center, says she immediately thought of Hess as an ideal local person to represent national Older Americans Month in May.

'I see Wayne as an older adult who's given back to the community,' Enger says. 'He not only exudes positive aging, but a real love of community. And that's really something, in my opinion. He's an inspiration at any age, not just his age.'

The energy and enthusiasm Hess exudes, she adds, is typical of what she experiences daily at the Stuhr Center.

Those who may view the center as a downcast gathering place for slow-moving 'old folks' might be surprised by the youthful vitality that flourishes under the center's roof.

'There's all levels here,' Enger says. 'But where (the energy) is, is in the mind. Their body may have had some kinks and a hitch in the getalongs, but not in the mental aspect of it.

'That's what we're here for,' she adds, 'to make sure people have an opportunity to feel good in the mind and body.'

A game changer

Hess says he was involved at the center only on a 'casual' basis - usually to work out in the exercise room or swim at the nearby Harman Swim Center - until a car struck him in 2007.

'It was about four blocks from here, at Seventh and Watson,' he recalls.

Hess thought it was safe to proceed into an 'implied crosswalk' at the intersection, but an oncoming driver apparently saw it differently.

'It was this little old lady, about 85 years old,' he says. 'I was almost across the street when she hit me on the left cheek with the fender and threw me about 15 feet.'

Nothing was broken, but the muscles around his hip - and his ability to walk up to 8 miles a day - have never been the same.

'It was really a deep bruise,' he says. 'It hurt for a couple years. Now I can only walk about 3 miles.'

The driver lost her license over the incident.

Hess, of course, takes an all's-well-that-ends-well attitude from the experience.

'Hey, I'm alive! I could have been under the car,' he says. 'I consider myself lucky.'

Man of the world

Hess used the Stuhr Center's facilities and resources to regain his strength and agility, while making plenty of new friends in the process.

When not engaged in community-based activities such as providing dinners for the warming shelter at Beaverton's First Baptist Church or mentoring for the substance abuse recovery group Al-Anon, Hess likes to spread goodwill in other parts of the world, particularly Guatemala.

When he and his wife, Barbara, accompanied their daughter on a Peace Corps mission there 15 years ago, Hess felt revitalized.

'I fell in love with the Mayan people,' he says.

That led to volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, where he's taken part in several builds. Fourteen houses later, 75 locals have new places to live.

In addition, Wayne and Barbara Hess raised funds to donate 15 computers. They also launched the La Pedrera School Project, an ongoing learning center for indigenous Mayan children in a country where the literacy rate is 37 percent.

'We were struck by these people and decided we had to do something,' he says, noting that 24 students have graduated high school and seven have gone on to college. 'Our success rate is quite high.'

On the move

Suffice it to say, Hess - whose combined family includes nine children - doesn't spend a lot of time in front of the TV.

'I'm not a couch potato,' he says.

If there's a downside, it's that Hess, like his late father, an itinerant logger, never learned the art of relaxation.

'OPB had a special on about attention deficit disorder that my wife wanted me to watch,' he says. 'A friend asked her, 'How long did he last?' She said five minutes. I think she was exaggerating. I think I made it 10, actually.'

He sees himself as an odd fit as poster boy for Older Americans Month, a celebration that started in 1963.

'I just found out about it,' he says with that trademark grin. 'I didn't know I was an older American.'

To donate or learn more about the La Pedrera School Project, visit www.lapedreraschoolproject.com .

There's no slowing down for Stuhr Center patrons

When interviewing prospective employees at the Elsie Stuhr Adult Leisure Center, a certain phrase all but guarantees a disqualification from Center Supervisor Linda Jo Enger.

'I always ask people about their views on aging,' she says. 'If someone says 'Oh, I just love old people!' you're done.'

Enger says the majority of the '55 and better' residents who frequent the Shuhr Center - which offers socialization, classes, fitness and other activities - are alert, active, physically fit and anything but 'old' in the traditional sense of the word.

That's why she looks forward to a renewed physical environment - brought by a planned $1.9 million renovation - that better matches the exuberance of its patrons.

Made possible through a $100 million bond measure Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District voters approved in 2008, the renovation will include expansion of the lobby, fitness room, vestibule and parking lots.

The funding, which falls within the $105 million budget the THPRD board approved on May 16, will also cover seismic upgrades - including roof modifications - to make the 1975-vintage building more resilient to earthquake damage.

Enger says the plans will improve the center's aesthetics as well as its physical attributes.

'It's going to be an upgrade to the center to change the whole look about it,' she says. 'Right now (the building's) just a long tube. This will give it some depth, particularly in the new lobby.'

Enger says she expects to see ground broken by early July, after the THPRD board approves the project's contractor. The board will likely consider this at its June 6 meeting.

'A lot of people who find themselves feeling isolated find friends here,' she says. 'I hear from people constantly, 'This place saved my life.''