Sensational Seniors – December 2016/January 2017

For this month’s column, I only needed to cross the street to interview our close neighbors and friends, Jim and Georgene Van Orsow, another senior couple living a rich and varied life here in Jacksonville. Jim was born in Fairbault, Minnesota but moved to Oregon at age 2, so considers himself an Oregonian. The youngest of ten children, Jim is the sole survivor of his family. Georgene was born in Gresham, Oregon, the eldest of four siblings, all still living.

Jim’s early Oregon years were spent on the move, starting in Sherwood and then on to Bridal Veil where his father worked for the Bridal Veil Box Company, well known for its Velveeta cheese boxes. The family eventually settled on 20 acres in Corbett where they ran a vegetable/fruit truck farm. Jim graduated from Gresham High School in 1951 where his activities were limited as a result of frequently starting school late in the fall because of the fall harvest and that he simply “came home and went to work.” It was on the farm where he developed his fascination and love for cars, because as he relates, “I learned to drive a truck when I couldn’t even push the clutch down.” After high school, Jim joined the Navy Reserve and spent two years of active duty during the Korean War. Utilizing the G.I. Bill, he entered Portland State College in a pre-engineering program and, after three years, transferred to Oregon State to complete his degree in Industrial Engineering in 1959.

Georgene was a 1952 graduate of Gresham High School, where she met and dated young Jim and enjoyed a “wonderful childhood” on her family’s 20-acre raspberry farm. Her greatest memory, however, came when at age 17 she was crowned the “Roller Skating Queen of America,” the final crowning event taking place in Cleveland, Ohio where Georgene and her mother had traveled to by train. She remembers returning from Cleveland with the press waiting for her at the train station. Jim clarifies her accomplishment by saying, “Yes, she was a really good roller skater but even better, she was a beautiful young woman and the judges were well aware of that.” After graduating from high school in 1952, Georgene moved to California where she lived with an aunt and uncle in order to attend a tuition-free community college, which she did for two years achieving an associate arts degree. Georgene was to spend the next 25 years in the Ventura, California area. She married and worked four years as the church secretary for the Ventura Friends Church. After her first marriage ended in divorce, Georgene started her new life in 1981 by heading back to Oregon and her hometown of Gresham.

Getting back to Jim, after he received his college degree, he embarked on a career that included no less than nine full-time and a number of part time jobs. His first professional job came in 1959 with Bethlehem Steel Company in Seattle where he was the Assistant Superintendent of Production Scheduling. Seeing that the steel industry was coming up on hard times, Jim opted to go back to school, this time at the University of Washington where he completed his MBA degree in 1964. With this business degree in hand, he embarked on a variety of positions at financial institutions, data processing companies and even served a stint as a consultant. His final and perhaps most rewarding job was with the Washington State University Small Business Development School where he was an Associate Professor in Business Development and the Director of Innovation Assessment—all based in Seattle. In this job, he basically acted as a clearinghouse for people who brought potential inventions to him for assessment and the possibility of creating a business plan. Two such inventions he appreciatively remembers are Essential Oils and the reproduction of marine charts, inventions which received the thumbs up, were helped with developing a business plan and went on to become hugely successful businesses.

Jim had married while in college but later divorced, moved to Portland, and as Georgene relates, “We never had any contact for thirty years, but by the grace of God, we re-connected, started dating and in 1983 got married.” After their marriage, they moved to Seattle where Jim was still working and leading an active life, including spending 30 days a year on a time-share 36’ boat where they explored the Puget Sound waterways. When Jim officially retired in 1996, they moved to Southern Oregon to be closer to Georgene’s family. They first settled in Shady Cove in a home they had built (Jim’s fourth to have built) and then in 2001 made the transition to Jacksonville, first in another new home in Nunan Square and then to their current home in Vineyard View, the second house built in this small Jacksonville subdivision.

The Van Orsows have numerous interests and hobbies that enrich their lives and keep them active. Jim has, since childhood, had a passion for cars and can remember every one of them, starting with a 1939 two-door Ford and including a couple of Porsche Boxters, and a 1998 Jaguar which he owned twice. Upon his retirement, they purchased a used motor home and spent two years touring the United States without a cell phone or a GPS. In 2000, Jim moved on to motorcycles, starting with a Honda, then on to a Harley Davidson— he currently owns a 2008 BMW F800. He loves to do summer cycle tours and estimates that he’s ridden over 100,000 miles in the saddle of a bike. This past summer, at age 83, he met up with a friend from high school who is a year older, and they did a bike tour down the Oregon coast and further into the northern California coast, on to Clear Lake, Sacramento, Tahoe, Susanville and into eastern Oregon, a trip of some 1,600 miles. He works out regularly at Snap Fitness, riding his bicycle to the workout, enjoys fishing and working in his garden.

Georgene is an avid golfer of some 44 years and at 82 professes, “I love to play golf. My mother played golf even in high school, so it was natural for me to follow in her footsteps. Over the years, I’ve belonged to eight ladies’ golf groups and have served as president of every one.” She is known for her putting skills and is a consistent winner at club events. She believes that golf is invigorating and likes to encourage her lady golfers, “Be thankful we can walk, swing a club and talk.” If golf is not enough, she finds time for yoga, Jazzercise and weight training.

Even with their busy retired lives, the Van Orsows find time to give back to their community. Georgene is a mainstay in the Jacksonville Presbyterian Church where she has served as an Elder, runs the clothing department for the annual Mexico Mission Yard Sale and volunteers for most church-sponsored activities. Jim has served since 2008 as the Treasurer for the local St. Vincent de Paul organization, a demanding position that consumes many hours of his time. They admit to having Type “A” personalities and to enjoying many different things, but especially enjoy and appreciate their six kids and their spouses, their nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Jim says that his, “string is short and I’m in overtime, but I’d like to build one more house and have bought property in Jacksonville to do just that.” Georgene is thankful that she “does not suffer any pain” which allows her to enjoy all that life brings her way. Jim does offer some parting advice for people who are nearing or starting retirement, saying, “Check your finances. Many people are not financially prepared to live as long as they will.”

Jim and Georgene Van Orsow are living life as we all would like to, with energy, verve and activity.