by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, Judy Wiltgen and Terrie Ezzat with bags of food items brought in by new “Curves” members who, during the first week in March each year, can bring a bag for the local food bank and have the one-time sign-up fee waived.

Walking through the door of 'Curves' on S.E. Milwaukie Avenue at Knapp Street in Westmoreland, one is struck by the deep, rich colors, the energizing but not overwhelming music, and the friendly atmosphere. A dozen exercise machines sit scattered throughout the 25 x 50 foot room.

This fitness club for women, although part of a national chain, seems definitely to reflect the tastes and values of the owner. 'I believe in beauty,' reveals owner Judy Wiltgen. The color of the dark raspberry walls and the charcoal trim were her choice, when she bought and re-painted the storefront business in 2003.

'Some people said it was too dark, but I knew it was right,' she says. Ten framed watercolors by Eastmoreland resident Vicki Mintkeski, all painted in rich hues, now adorn the walls. The room virtually radiates color and beauty.

Finding your niche in a professional or business world is rarely easy. Wiltgen explains that she started at Curves as an employee, but soon decided that she wanted to own the club. Over the past four years, she has managed to combine her love of fostering community with the display of beauty and help for women seeking to get fit, all in one enterprise.

Curves appears different from other fitness centers in its workout philosophy. Right off the bat, one notices that women are changing machines every 30 seconds. 'This is the way it is at all Curves,' explains Wiltgen. '30 second intervals are the optimal time for a strength training set. And whether you are 15 or 85 years old, you'll use the same machines, but at a different speed.'

In fact, one of Curves' national policies is to encourage a diversity of ages. Daughters in high school have the option of being added to their mother's (or aunt's or grandmother's) contract, so they can work out together.

Wiltgen pursues community involvement in a number of ways. One is by holding 'challenges' for her members, and awarding prizes--gift certificates and assorted items--purchased from local businesses. Another is by hiring local people. Terrie Ezzat, a Woodstock resident, has been an employee for four years. 'One of the things that I love about this job is connecting with women from my neighborhood,' she says, defining her neighborhood as Sellwood, Woodstock, and both Morelands.

Displaying works of local artists is another way that Wiltgen gives back to the community. Vicki Mintkeski is not only a local artist, but has been a weekly watercolor instructor for many years at the Woodstock Community Center, and is a Curves member.

Wiltgen herself is also involved in local activities in addition to her commitment to Curves. As a singer and musician, she has been the choir director of Moreland Presbyterian Church for 2 1/2 years, and conducts a chorus of 55 residents, most of whom are in their 80's and 90's, at Willamette View Retirement Center in Milwaukie.

'What is fun,' Wiltgen remarks, 'is when, sometimes, my clients come in with the frustrations of their day, and after working out for 30 minutes, they leave feeling good.' Ezzat points out that talking is encouraged at all Curves clubs. 'At target heart rate, you should be able to talk,' points out Ezzat. 'The program includes regularly checking our heart rates, as insurance against overdoing.'

Wiltgen underscores what it was that hooked her on owning her own Curves franchise. 'I like the fact that when women leave here, they're happy. What I like about this workout is that it's moderate. In real life, you need a workout that will help you, not kill you.'

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