Gerry Boldenow is nearly a century old, but his enthusiasm and spirit rivals that of most people half his age.
The Scappoose resident is an anomaly if nothing else. He volunteers twice a week at the Scappoose Senior Center thrift store, ringing sales and greeting customers with charm and a good joke.
"I never tell a dirty joke," Boldenow says. "You never know who you're talking to and you don't want to offend anyone."
Instead, he keeps it jovial, stealing most of his comic content from his pastor, he says.
Maybe it's his jokes, or his charisma that draw people in. It's hard to put a finger on, but the man is well-known and well-liked around town, and he's become a familiar face at the thrift store.
"I've never found anybody I couldn't talk to," Boldenow says. "A lot of people come in and want a senior discount. I tell 'em that if they're older than me, I'll give 'em one. So far, I haven't had to."
Boldenow is fiercely independent. He still lives on his own and drives himself around town to volunteer, go grocery shopping and go to church. His home is immaculate — a sunny yellow spot on the west end of town — in a neighborhood where most of his neighbors know each other's names.
"You can tell he's up for the day when he's got his curtains open," CJ Lyngheim, one of Boldenow's neighbors, says. "He always says that if his curtains aren't open you better be knocking on his door or tearing it down."
Boldenow made the move to Scappoose years ago with his wife after the two raised their children on farm property in Goble.
He never expected to settle in Columbia County.
"I told my mom I was going to Oregon to see [my brother]," Boldenow recalls, leaving his hometown of Bloomfield, Nebraska, for a visit shortly after he was discharged from a radar and searchlight position in the U.S. Army after World War II.
But fate would have it differently.
"My brother encouraged me to try to get a job at the mill, so I went in and applied on a Thursday, started work on a Friday, and met my wife the following day," Boldenow says.
He met Berniece at the former roller rink in St. Helens.
"I'd have married her that Sunday, but she couldn't see it," he says. "So we got married nine months later."
Boldenow, born on Sept. 11, 1917, picked the same date in September to marry his wife.
"She told me to pick a date I wouldn't forget," Boldenow recalls, noting, "11 is my lucky number."
He was the 11th of 13 children in his family, born on the 11 and later, married on the 11.
Berniece died in 2005, but photos of her still adorn the walls in the home they used to share.
Beverlee Saum, Boldenow's daughter, says her father cared for her ailing mother for years.
"He's a very loving person," Saum says of her father. "He is a Christian man, still goes to church. He had a parochial upbringing until high school."
Saum isn't sure what to attribute her father's longevity to, and neither is her father.
"Me and the Lord's got a working agreement," he says. "I louse it up every once in a while ... I've got one foot on a banana peel and the other in a grave."
Lyngheim is organizing a birthday party for Boldenow next Saturday, Sept. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Scappoose Senior Center. She invites anyone who knows Boldenow, or has enjoyed his company, to "just stop by and say hi."
Afterall, Boldenow says, "you only turn 100 once in a lifetime."