Beloved fitness director leaves healthy legacy after years at Elsie Stuhr Center

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Longtime Elsie Stuhr Center fitness director Diane Brice retired last Friday after 11 years at the center.Of the numerous ways Diane Brice inspired seniors to stay physically fit during her 11-year tenure at the Elsie Stuhr Center, her late bloomer status perhaps provided the strongest impact.

“I started working out when I was 40,” confessed the 64-year-old Brice. “I realized if I didn’t start exercising, I was not in for a happy future. I wouldn’t be able to do the things I enjoyed doing with my family. I would not have the energy to do it.”

As about anybody she worked with at the center will tell you, Brice more than made up for any exercise time she avoided as a younger woman. Her ability to keep seniors active and happy as the center’s fitness director was evident in the 110 or so who attended her retirement party on Friday, Jan. 4.

To show their appreciation, about 20 center regulars showed up in T-shirts proclaiming “Body by Diane.” Brice herself got into the act with a shirt that read, “Don’t ask me, ask Carolyn,” in reference to Carolyn Gallagher, who took over the reins as the center’s new fitness director.

“At her retirement party, we ran out of space,” said Dolores Preble, 85, who’s worked out under Brice’s guidance for nine years. “That’s how many people cared about her.”

Reflecting on her career and last week’s joyous send-off, Brice, a 31-year resident of Cedar Mill, acknowledged the familial feeling of the folks at her long-running workplace.

“My first love is teaching fitness classes,” said Brice, a vivacious redhead. “The classes I teach, I think of as extended family. Some of the people in the class, I’ve been spending two or three days a week with for 15 years. There’s a real sense of belonging.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Diane Brice, newly retired fitness director at the Elsie Stuhr Center, chats with Elsie Stuhr Center regular Wolfgang Dempke.

Mid-life adjustments

A native of upstate New York, Brice moved to Oregon with Stephen, her husband of 41 years, originally to work at her father’s fruit processing business. The two met while students at Elmira College in New York, where Diane earned a degree in international studies.

“We worked for my dad briefly before deciding working for the family was not the best idea.”

An engineer, Stephen eventually landed at Tektronix, while Diane worked in graphic design and AFS intercultural programs hosting exchange families.

After giving birth to two children, now 22 and 23 years old, she became a stay-at-home mom. As the kids grew more independent and middle age came knocking, Brice realized she had to make changes.

“I wasn’t overweight. I was just out of shape,” she said. “But I knew I could lead an active life if I wanted to.”

Starting her first exercise regimen at age 40, she welcomed walking, biking and aerobics and other group classes into her life.

“I still remember what it was like to be in the back of the room,” she said. “I’d feel really shy and uncomfortable. I remember how the people in front of me could do it so well. I felt inept in so many ways.”

After nine years of sweat and perseverance, Brice set out to help others reach their fitness goals. The 50-year-old started working at three Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District facilities, settling in as director at the district’s Elsie Stuhr Center in 2002.

“My dad passed away,” she recalled. “I remember thinking he would’ve thought it was bizarre, me teaching a fitness class at that ripe old age.”

Brice found advantages in her late-comer status.

“I gave them a connection to people who wanted to do things at an older age. I knew what it felt like to do that. So many people in fitness have done it all their lives,” she said. “They can’t relate to it as well as with a newcomer.”

Healthy legacy

Longtime Stuhr Center Director Linda Jo Enger said Brice’s spirit and enthusiasm proved inspirational to the center’s Baby Boomer-aged regulars.

“They’re learning that once you get to a certain age, your quality of life is really affected by how much motion and how much movement you receive,” Enger said. “Diane, having the ability to show that at 64 years old, really proves to our boomers that there are questions about aging and exercise you can’t get answered at a private gym.”

Ann Satterfield, who hired Brice 15 years ago, said her legacy of a vibrant fitness program will carry on well after her retirement.

“She will be incredibly missed,” Satterfield said. “She helped it grow from 29 classes to the almost 100 classes we have now.”

Even as she trades work for more time with her husband and new grandchildren, Brice has no intention of leaving her Stuhr Center family behind.

“Of course, most people I work with here are retired, so they’ve given me a lot of advice along the way,” she said. “When the sun isn’t shining, and I’m not hiking, I’ll be over here working out.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Diane Brice retired last Friday after 11 years at the Elsie Stuhr Center and 15 years with the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District.

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