Never let the old man in
When having a straightforward conversation with Walt Wagner about life after 50, it is obvious that this period of his life has not slowed him down.
Wagner grew up in Clackamas County and attended K-12 schools there. He had a difficult childhood and was raised in poverty. He began exercising and lifting weights when he was 13. He joined the Navy and was on aircraft carriers for four years.
"I made a choice. I needed help, and I wanted to be something other than what I had been in my life. I have to say that the military did help me, and it was a lot of work," Wagner said of his time in the service.
He was married while in the Navy, and shortly after getting out in 1964, he worked in a paper mill in Clackamas County.
"Everything affects your values and your ethics," Wagner added of his many experiences, both before and after his military service.
While working for the paper mill, he made application for the Oregon State Police and was accepted and hired in October 1964. He worked for the agency for 27 years. He began as a state police officer, including traffic law enforcement, criminal investigation, arson investigation, and game enforcement.
"I never saw corruption within the state police. It was one of the most ethical, above reproach organizations I have ever been involved with," pointed out Wagner.
He worked for OSP in Clackamas County, which was perfect for him. He was eventually assigned to take on some challenging appointments that required him to stretch professionally and take on leadership roles.
He was the first public relations officer in the Portland area for the OSP, with an emphasis on drunk driving enforcement. He spent time answering questions from reporters and photographers. Wagner rode along with the same reporters at the beginning of this assignment to learn about how to analyze and respond to questions. He wrote the first and only PIO program that the OSP has had—and still has.
While he was in this role, he was asked to run the State Police Academy in Monmouth. His family moved, and he fulfilled this role for approximately two years.
"Sometimes you are asked to do things that you absolutely know absolutely nothing about," emphasized Wagner. "But if you have the attitude, the ethics and the approach, you will figure out how to do it."
In addition, special honors and assignments that Wagner received during his time at OSP were as follows: He was appointed by Governor's Council on Health Fitness and Sports; chairman of 1986 State Games of Oregon; member of Law Enforcement Fitness and Task Force at Portland State University; member of Southeast Asian Task Force in Portland; member of Washington/Multnomah County Clackamas Training Committee; and representing the state of Oregon at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs—an appointment made by Gov. Victor Atiyeh.
He previously received a governor's award for leadership in the area of health and fitness. Wagner also coordinated and formed the first Oregon State Police SWAT team.
He said that whenever something goes right, he always says, "Thank you, Father," because he never had a father.
"I think a supreme being is probably filling that role," he went on to say.
Wagner retired at 50, and he has three adult children, including one son whom he lost two years ago. He worked and retired from the Sheriff's Department in Marion County.
"There is nothing worse than losing a child," he said somberly.
He and his wife, Rebecca, whom he married in 1976, moved to Central Oregon in 2004, as their son was working for the State Police in Bend. His son recently retired last November and lives in Prineville. His daughter lives in Oregon City and is an assistant manager for Home Depot. The Wagners also have several grandchildren who live in various locations around the area.
Rebecca is an accomplished artist, with a BFA degree from Arcadia University, 1965. Local people may remember her as the piano player at the Old Barney Prine's when it was still on Main Street about a decade ago, and as one of the four singers in Silverado Quartet. The couple have acreage and animals in Crook County, which they take pleasure in taking care of.
After retiring at 50, Wagner began body building seriously and won his first body building championship at 53, Mr. Oregon over 50.
"Then, at 58 I moved to Hawaii (Kauai) and ran a business, because we were thinking about moving there," Wagner said of life after retirement. "At 63, the year I relocated to Crook County, I fenced 10 acres myself by hand. 'Senior living' hadn't settled in at that time."
The time he spent running for office in Crook County in his mid-60s took a lot of time and campaigning, something he experienced at least four times before his eight years in the Crook County School District Board position. He recently resigned from the school board because of personal priorities taking precedence.
"I went on the school board in 2013 and Ioved it, and my personal reasons are just so I have more time, now."
"The real question is when does 'senior' start?" Wagner commented. "I believe it starts when you allow it."
He quoted a statement that his role model, Clint Eastwood, made when he was directing a movie at 88 years old. Someone asked Eastwood the question, "How do you keep going?"
"I just don't let the old man in," was Eastwood's response.
"I went, what a great comment! I kind of follow that," Wagner went on to say about Eastwood's reply.
He is very adamant about having good exercise equipment and quality supplements and nutrition. He was a personal trainer in the past and has also taught nutrition in Portland.
"I have changed so many things and tried to adapt to do things differently now to keep the old man from coming in. It's really a challenge, but it's working."
Wagner is always researching and learning new things, whether its nutrition, education or memory techniques.
"There are many challenges still in place that are not allowing the experience of 'senior living' to take hold," he said of his daily routine. "I'm up every morning between 1:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., preparing special nutrient meals for each one of our four dogs. I work in a bite for myself before heading out to clean barn stalls and give our two horses their morning nutrients and hay for the morning. I've been participating in the horse thing for 45 years, except for the time I was in Kauai, when my lovely wife took care of the horses and about 30 head of sheep on our 17-acre farm in Dallas, Oregon.
"Senior living, I'm sure, doesn't include maintaining our present 10 acres, with deer making unscheduled appearances in an attempt to eat my fruit trees," he concluded.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.