Sensational Seniors – June 2017
I had just started my interview with Lou Mayersky, my June “Sensational Seniors” candidate, when he had me look at several tall fir trees outside his dining room. “You know,” started, “too many people want to improve their view by cutting trees down. That is a terrible waste of the beauty of a tree. What I prefer doing is making windows in trees so you have your view, but you still have your tree.” You see, Lou is an 81-year-old arborist and an intriguing personality who has a story to tell.
Lou’s story begins in New Jersey and in particular, Watchung, where he was born and lived with his parents, two sisters and his grandmother. His father, who worked for the Jersey Central Railroad, supplemented the family income, doing carpentery work on the side, which was to influence Lou’s career choice. Lou spent two years at North Plainfield High School, an experience his quickly sums up with, “I didn’t do well.” As a result of this shaky start in high school, Lou transferred to a vocational high school where he thrived. In his junior year he experienced a different vocational experience every six weeks and then, as a senior, following his father’s lead, focused on carpentry skills.
Upon graduation, Lou experienced the frustration of being too young to get a job as a carpenter. Luckily, a local landscaper gave him some part-time work and one day asked him if he liked to climb trees. Lou replied, “Ever since I was a kid I have liked to climb anything.” Since a recent hurricane had wreaked havoc in New Jersey that season, there was a tremendous need for tree work and within a few weeks the landscape owner told Lou that he was a natural tree man, hired him on full time. This is when his life-long career as an arborist was born.
After two years working with the landscaper, Lou was approached by the Westfield, New Jersey Township about starting a tree service crew. Due to the severe New Jersey winters, the tree work was endless whether it was removing downed or diseased trees, limbing up trees along roadways so snow plows could do the winter plowing or replanting trees as needed. Then, when the Township outlawed open burning, Lou and his crew started one of the first composting programs in the United States.
Lou remembers that he learned his arborist trade first on the job and then took county extension tree service classes. Ironically, the boy who had struggled academically in his early high school years was eventually hired by the Rutgers University School of Agriculture to teach “hands-on” arborist classes. The field training that involved knot tying, tree climbing, tree removal and trimming as well as tree planting took place on county-owned golf courses and, as a result, Lou enjoyed “a lot of free golf.”
Lou remembers the harsh New Jersey winters with many sub-zero winter days. “On those days, we would go to the work site, climb reluctantly out of the truck, do jumping jacks, pass a football back and forth and do anything to warm up….I once climbed a tree when it was eight below. That was unbelievable.”
After 32 years of arborist work, Lou retired at 55 and entered the second phase of his life. Having enjoyed good health, he was ready for a new challenge. “I was a healthy sucker. In my 32 years working for the Westfield Township, I only missed four days of work and that was because I got the darn flu.” Wanting a change of scenery upon retirement, in 1990, he and his wife at the time packed up, going as “far as I could before hitting water again.” His introduction to southern Oregon came via a childhood friend who had moved to Fort Klamath some years before and encouraged Lou to move west. Many will remember his peach orchard on Old Stage Road where he raised peaches, raspberries, llamas and alpacas. He was most proud of his “Lean Forward” peaches because, if you didn’t lean forward while eating them, your shirt or blouse was invaribly stained. After going through a divorce, he sold the Old Stage property and threw himself into volunteer work with the Jacksonville Lions Club. He remembers fondly the “great group of guys in the Lions Club. We did everything together, volunteer-wise and socially,” and after his best Lions friend passed away, he married his widow, Evelyn Howard. When Evelyn asked her son permission to marry Lou, the son responded, “If Dad liked him, we should also.” Lou and Ev were together for thirteen years before Evelyn’s death, and Lou remembers these as the greatest years of his life. “We did not have one argument in the thirteen years and were able to do a lot of traveling to Europe, Mexico and the United States.”
During his time in New Jersey and in Oregon, he never gave up his tree climbing adventures even though Evelyn and his doctor urged him not to attempt it at his age. “I told the doc that climbing trees is what is keeping me alive and that I do it safely. Plus, I love to be up in a tree, helping keep it alive and maintaining a tree’s natural beauty.” He starts each day in bed before getting up with a series of hand and leg exercises which he maintains is much better than “walking in space” on a treadmill and is what allows him to still do his tree thing.
Besides tree climbing, his main hobby is building wren houses and calling owls in to his trees. As an east coast native, he loves the New England Patriots NFL team, watching every game that is on television, dressed in his favorite team colors and apparel. In the last couple of years, Lou has befriended the Diaz family, of Central Point. After an initial visit to their home to do some tree trimming, he was asked if he could build a tree house for the Diaz children, Logan and Alyana. Drawing on his early carpentry skills, he assisted the entire family in this project and by the end of the project a close friendship was formed. He enjoys doing things with the kids, fishing, target practice, teaching how to use a pocket knife and enjoying the wonderful southern Oregon outdoors. While he never had children of his own, he feels a grandfatherly attachment to the Diaz children and is especially proud of them. “They are wonderful children who always write me sincere thank you letters when I do something with them. I cherish these letters and would never throw one away.”
Lou’s prize possession is his 1984 GMC pickup that he brought all the way from New Jersey, and it has the prominent spot in his driveway. While his pickup is a prize to him, Lou Mayersky is a prize for all of us who call the Rogue Valley our home.
Featured image is Lou Mayersky, Dr. Jessica Diaz, Alyana, Dr. Travis Diaz and Logan.