A four-letter word is the secret to a long life.
Ask Lester Evans, “Mr. Elderlife.”
He’ll tell you that word is w-o-r-k.
Evans is celebrating his 25th year as administrator of Elderlife, an independent living complex for the well-elderly located in Genoa.
|Lester Evans, left, and Frank Compton tend to
the decoration at Elderlife. Not pictured is fellow
caretaker Jose Andaverde. (Press photo by Ken
Evans took the job after retiring from DeVilbiss where he was a machinery supervisor. He is 88 and has no plans to retire from his second career.
“I’m still holding out. If I just parked, I wouldn’t last too long,” he said in a recent interview. “I don’t have anything else going on and I like to work with people.”
Evans works about 30 hours a week. He leases the apartments, collects rents, manages the maintenance issues and does long-range planning.
Yes, long range planning.
Occasionally, he has to remind his tenants to be good neighbors. But, the biggest issues are small issues. For example, someone may need a reminder to stop doing laundry after hours, or stop parking in the wrong spot. But, that’s it. This is a Christian community, an arm of St. John’s United Church of Christ. The residents here are mostly women and a soft touch is usually all that’s needed to correct behavior. That’s what Lester delivers, said retired Pastor Paul Deppen. “We don’t always get along with one another and Lester is very compassionate. He’s very good at that.”
That sensitivity, management experience at DeVilbiss and a 20-year career as an on-the-road service man in the auto and aircraft industry are the assets that convinced Pastor Deppen and the board of St. John’s to hire Evans in 1987. He also had construction experience as a Navy Seabee in the Pacific during World War II.
Evans was no stranger to the board at the time. He was a trustee in 1985 when the church received a substantial bequest to care for the elderly. The funds came from a former church member, Alta Moyer, who donated the money on condition it would be used for the well elderly who risked becoming homeless due to declining finances.
As a trustee, Evans was involved in the project from the start and when he went for an occupancy permit he displayed another trait that secured his second career—persistence.
According to Evans, there was a glitch in getting approval for the waterline, due in part to the number of entities that had to okay the permit. The City of Oregon supplied the water, the project engineer was located in Bowling Green and the county sanitary engineer in Port Clinton. All three had to sign off in addition to the village mayor and village council. It took almost daily trips back and forth for three months to get everyone to agree.
“I got very frustrated,” he recalls. But, he didn’t give up. “They knew what I was coming for when they saw me coming. And, they didn’t chase me off.”
Persistence paid off and Elderlife opened in 1987 with 16 units. Today, there are 40 apartments, 29 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom units. Residents live on a single level that is handicapped accessible. There’s an intercom system, security doors, a medical monitoring system and deadbolt locks. There’s a social lounge and nutritional, spiritual and recreational opportunities.
As the complex has grown, so too has the workload. Evans has two workers to help with the heavy lifting—Frank Compton and Jose Andaverde. Both are maintenance workers who have also been trained to fill in administratively.
Providing for succession is a good leadership skill. Evans, like most men his age, is realistic about the future. “You can’t stay in this job very long when you’re 88 years old,” he explains.
How long before he retires for a second time?
“Mr. Elderlife” won’t say. It depends on his health and his mind.
“This place is my life and my hobby,” he said.