Anderson has taught many seniors to drive

In the 1935 Ford that Rex Anderson learned to drive with he recalls only a few gauges on the dash. The roads were narrower then and there was no interstate highway system.

Much has changed in the world of car travel.

Anderson, 84, teaches driver safety courses for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to help those over the age of 55 keep sharp driving skills and adapt to changing automotive technology.

Anderson still has some driving instruction left to give, but will be ceasing his work this year after 20 years. “I kind of thought that at the end of 20 years, it’s probably long enough,” he said.

In 2010, the Gearhart resident received an award from AARP for outstanding work as an instructor and mentor to other instructors. “The whole idea of the program is driving safely as you get older,” Anderson said. With age, sharpness tends to go and reflexes are slower. “When you’re driving there’s certain things as you get older that fail you,” he said.

Anderson worked for NW Natural for 25 years until retiring in 1989 to the home in Gearhart he and his wife Nancy purchased in the 1960s. As an employee of NW Natural, he was based in Portland and assessed commercial and industrial customers’ set-ups for gas hookup. Of the city he now calls home, Anderson said he likes the pace of coastal life.

“It’s a slower way of life and we decided it would be neat to live in a smaller town like Gearhart,” he said. “And Gearhart is a great town.” When he first retired, Anderson said he was going back to Portland for every excuse he had because he missed it. “Now, I don’t relish the idea of going back to Portland at all.”

Anderson served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War as an airplane mechanic, working on F4U-4 Corsair fighters. When he returned to live in Nebraska, around a poker game with friends, he heard from one of them about the beautiful women in Portland.

“One of the guys had been out in Portland during the Rose Festival and he said, ‘You know guys, you wouldn’t believe the women in Portland,’” Anderson said.

Three out of the group of friends, including Anderson, drove to Portland to check out the claim. Later, Anderson met his wife, who was a teacher.

“We could have gone anywhere, but we decided Portland sounded good,” he said.

Anderson said he initially took the AARP driver safety course himself, but then decided he was going to teach it. There are challenges to driving as people grow older, he said, but most can be compensated for to a certain extent.

Anderson recalls hall of fame baseball pitcher Satchel Paige’s quote about age being an issue of mind over matter and that if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

“It does matter when it comes to driving; it really does,” he said. Your own body, cars and the roads have all changed over the years, he said. “The car you’re driving certainly isn’t at all like the car you started with.”

Anderson said his time in the Marine Corps was a good experience and that while he served between 1951 and 1953 he was trained in radio communication and radar. He took to flying after his military service and flew single-engine planes up until about 10 years ago.

When he moved to Gearhart permanently, Anderson rented single-engine Cessna aircraft at the Astoria Regional Airport for jaunts in the sky. He realized, though, that he probably shouldn’t continue. “I could tell I was getting to a point where maybe it’s not the greatest thing in the world to continue flying.”

Anderson has coffee regularly with a group involved or formerly involved in aviation in Seaside. Two members worked for Boeing and two, including Anderson, have been pilots.

Hanging in a solarium that Anderson and his wife added to their beach house, are airplane replicas of a Corsair and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, as well as other airplanes. Although he hasn’t flown in a while, Anderson said he doesn’t miss it.

Anderson is also involved with Exploring New Concepts of Retirement Education (ENCORE) and the Astoria Lions Club. He often helps Nancy at the Knappton Cove Heritage Center, which she runs with her brother, Tom Bell.

— Ted Shorack

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