Category Archives: Notable People

Interviews with interesting people I know.

Gail Slater – Living with Edge

I’m interested in people, their body language, their words, tone and gestures, how they move in and through the world—all of it. And these days, when so many of my friends (contending with bum knees, bad backs and arthritic hips) are opting to ride the elevator because they can’t face climbing the stairs, I find myself perseverating on movement and momentum. So when I meet someone whose health and physical well-being has been challenged in ways I can only imagine, and who has, time after time, pulled herself up by her bootstraps, and literally insisted on getting back on that horse for another ride, I want to know more.
Gail Slater isn’t quick to talk about herself, in fact, she’s so modest I had to do some coaxing, so I was excited when she agreed to have coffee with me and tell me a little about her history, about what she’s had to overcome, and what keeps her going.
If you happen to come across Gail walking her dog or exercising at her fitness club, you’ll never suspect that she is a survivor of colon and breast cancer, or that less than a year and a half ago she had knee replacement surgery, or that just a few months ago, she got a new hip. What you will see is an energetic woman with the physique of a race walker—sleek-muscled and slender, with hair that’s curly and light brown, clear bright eyes, and an engaging smile. She’s the picture of health, thoughtful living, and famous for showing up, day-after-day, to do the work.

About Thoughtful Living

Today Gail is a dedicated and enthusiastic exerciser, and she’s happiest when she’s been able to pursue a very physical lifestyle, but there were times in her life when staying active wasn’t easy. For years she held down a professional position for Oregon’s Department of Agriculture, a job that required long hours at a desk. She remembers a moment of sudden awareness, of noticing that some family members and friends who were very important to her were becoming less and less active; their health was declining, and they were gradually giving up doing many of the things they had always enjoyed. She hated what was happening to them and decided she didn’t want that to happen to her. So she started bringing her walking shoes to work. Every day, instead of going to lunch, she’d slip into those shoes, put on her headphones and favorite music, step out the doors of her workplace, and take off walking—forty minutes, moving fast. When she retired in 2004, she Gail Slatertook to walking the steep streets in her neighborhood for more than an hour both morning and afternoon. She lost twenty-six pounds and felt great. Later, she joined an early morning group exercise class at a church and discovered she loved the challenge of choreographed moves to music and the pleasures of a shared workout—so much, that she expanded her fitness routine to include group exercise classes at her fitness club. She continually tries to incorporate new activities to keep her workout fresh. For Gail, fitness is a work-in-progress, and something she looks forward to each day.

History Highlights

Gail grew up in Great Falls, Montana. Her father was an avid outdoorsman and Gail was a tomboy. From an early age, she tagged along with her dad and he taught her to hunt and fish. She was an eager and determined student, and in the process, she developed a great love for the mountains and lakes, the rugged wildness of the place and the wild creatures that live there. On her 13th birthday, her dad gave Gail her first guns, a 20-gauge shot gun and a 303 British rifle. After that, during hunting season, she got her own hunting license, hunted and shot the deer, and dragged it out on her own.
Like hunting and fishing, her passion for horses and horseback riding came so naturally, it might have been genetic. While other preschoolers were pretending to be superman, cowboys and princesses, Gail was imagining horses, not just riding horses, but what it would be like to be a horse. And her enthusiasm for horses never waned. During her school years, she had friends who owned horses. She and one of her friends would spend evenings and weekends in the stables and pasture learning to handle and ride the horses.
Her passion for archery came later, during her twenties when she had moved to Oregon. She got a job at an archery shop in Springfield. Surrounded by all that equipment and a built-in opportunity to shoot in her spare time, it wasn’t long before Gail was accumulating prizes for marksmanship. This is a woman who can actually “Robin Hood” arrows!

Alaskan Adventure

Sometimes there are experiences in a person’s life that seem to bring meaning to everything that came before and shape everything that comes after; that’s the way Gail feels about the two and a half years she spent in Alaska. She made the decision to take off for Alaska at a tough time when she was feeling vulnerable and unsure about her life and what was ahead. She’d always fantasized about going to Alaska, sure that if there was a place wilder than Montana, that’s where she’d find it. Friends and relatives had moved there; they loved it and were full of stories. They raved about the scenery and kept insisting that she come—and she did. She moved to Anchorage, enrolled in a computer school, completed her studies and was hired by a temp agency to work for a private coal company. The job was okay, but she wanted something different. She took the state employment exam, passed with flying colors, and began applying for state jobs. Right away, she scored an interview with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. All it took was walking into the lobby, a vast room whose walls and spaces were crowded with trophies and taxidermied specimens, most of them immense—caribou, moose, Dall sheep, mountain goat, even a Beluga whale skull. She knew right then, this was where she belonged. It turned out that the interview team agreed. She’d found the best job of her life, a job packed with variety and leveraged on all the things she loved. Besides her main clerical duties she was awarded the opportunity to assist in conducting archery proficiency tests on hunters seeking moose permits (hunters had to demonstrate the power and the aim to kill a moose with a 70 lb. bow). She also was asked to assist in the process used to “seal” bears—helping the officer who affirms when, where, and how a bear was taken and checks, measures and takes samples from the skull of the bear before it is released to the hunter for taxidermy. She learned and did so many exciting things. She learned to “age” a moose by slicing a tooth and counting the rings, she got to ride in a small airplane Super Cub in sub-zero weather with the state biologist to count moose, she gathered applications that came in from all over the world for the coveted McNeil River Lottery, that allowed a select few photographers and enthusiasts to view sanctuary Grizzly Bears catching running salmon. She even volunteered her weekends to take duty at the Department’s Rabbit Creek Rifle Range. She loved the work and might have spent her whole life in Alaska, but she got homesick for the people she’d left behind. And that’s how she ended up coming back to Oregon and finding the love of her life—again, but that’s another story.

Stella Eklund

Stella Eklund – Salem Dynamo

Stella is a dedicated exerciser, unfailing and unflinching. I know because we both show up fifteen minutes early every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the 9:00 AM workout at our fitness club. And, trust me, this class isn’t for wimps. We put in a full hour of non-stop work—squats, jumps and hopping on and off a step, some vigorous weight training, work on core and balance, and a soothing final stretch that’s really an apology to our muscles for all that abuse. Stella stakes out her Stella_5space by the doors and I work out up front, so it took me almost a year before she caught my attention, and then I noticed her because another, more socially in the loop member, asked me if I’d like to sign a birthday card for Stella. Stella, she explained, was turning 82!
“Really? Wow!” I said. “Who is she?” Georgia pointed her out to me and my eyes honed in on a small, energetic woman with a sleek well-toned body and a cap of short gray curls. Not right away, but soon after, I introduced myself to Stella, and last week, I finally got a chance to sit down with her and try to find out what gives this dynamo of a woman the energy, stamina and glow that’s so obvious to everyone around her.
“So,” I asked, when I had Stella’s attention over a cup of coffee, “What makes Stella, Stella?” I was all ears, ready for what she had to tell me, about her marriage, her passion for dancing, her volunteer work, her artistic joys, her travels, and some of the risks she’s been willing to take to stand up for what she believes is right.

A Little History

Stella was born  in the tiny town of Harden, Colorado into a large, loving, and very strict Catholic family. When she was twelve, her family moved to Southern California. Her parents made education a priority. Their home was filled with books and Stella was enrolled in dance lessons, something for which she has always had a natural ability and endless enthusiasm. Dancing and her faith became the joys of her life. At twenty-six she was searching for direction, and she began exploring a religious vocation. She sought advice from people whose opinion she valued. Her parish priest and her Arthur Murray dance instructor both urged her to leave home and experience the wider world first. About those times, she smiles and says, “my dance instructor told me that I ‘had more bounce to the ounce’.”
She took their advice and left her family home to live with her older brother in Washington State where she found a job in an accounting office. The young women Stella worked with kept pressuring her to go out with them after work on Friday nights. After weeks of refusing, she reluctantly agreed. She remembers that evening at the dance club, listening to music and sitting with her back to the door while one of her friends catalogued the details of the men coming through the door. Amid the dark, short, cute, husky, pale. . . she heard, “very tall, blonde and handsome.” She dismissed them all. But soon Mr. Very Tall, Blonde, and Handsome was looking down at Stella, asking her to dance. They spent the whole evening dancing and drinking 7up, because, at that time, Stella was a teetotaler. It didn’t take her long to figure out that she’d found the love of her life. Three months later she married him. That was 54 years ago. Today their marriage remains strong and they have much to celebrate: two successful children, a cherished granddaughter, and a committed life together. The way Stella’s face lights up when she talks about Bill makes it clear that he’s still the apple of her eye.

Dancing

Dancing has been a lifelong passion for Stella. She’s been an Arthur Murray and Jazz Dance instructor. She’s a wizard at tap, ballet, the cha-cha-cha, Spanish dancing, jitterbug, waltzes, and even belly dancing. If you can name a dance, she’ll probably be able to show you more than a few expert moves.Stella_4

Volunteer Work

Stella believes that every person deserves respect, and she does her best to offer care, kindness, and a hand up by volunteering with organizations that share her core beliefs. She has served on the Human Rights Commission for Salem, volunteered with Catholic Community Services to mentor women at risk of losing their children to Child Protective Services, worked with the Red Cross in blood drives and disaster relief and spent time offering comfort in hospice. She’s traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to dig trenches and lay pipe as part of North West Medical Teams’ Clean Water Project, and worked as a medical interpreter assisting South West Medical Teams with cleft palette surgery. She’s been shot at in the asparagus fields of Yakima, Washington while standing with migrant workers demonstrating for a five cent pay raise.

Artistic Joys and Books

Stella loves art and appreciates the beauty of everyday experiences. She’s taken classes in the principles of color and design, landscape design, fashion Stella_3and jewelry design, gardening, and gourmet cooking, and she puts all this accumulated knowledge and technique into practice. She designs jewelry and sells her original creations, does her own landscaping and garden design, and is an adventurous cook who loves to entertain.

Stella admits to being a “news junkie.” She and her husband share a love of reading. Their home is filled with books, magazines and newspapers. She and Bill relax around the breakfast table with a veritable stack of newspapers (the Statesman Journal, Nordic Newspaper (written in both English and Swedish), the Seattle Times, and the New York Times. Favorite authors include David Baldacci and James Patterson, and she and Bill subscribe to the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly.

Stella’s Travels

This February Stella and her granddaughter are headed to Mexico to visit the Copper Mountains, a sightseeing tour that includes trekking the surrounding area.  Last year she visited Costa Rica and experienced the jungle from the treetops on a zip line. “It was a thrill,” she said, “you can’t be afraid. You have to relax and just fly.”

She thrives on the novelty and adventure that travel provides. Some of her favorite destinations include Russia with it’s magnificent domes, spires and stone facades, the scenic beauty of Australia and New Zealand, and Athens Greece for it’s ambiance, exotic music, and, “Oh the cuisine–best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. That Greek salad with a lump of feta cheese on the top!”

Words of Wisdom

I asked Stella what advise she would give to young people just starting out:  about marriage: “it’s give and take. You have to have prioritieStella_1s.” About marriage and everything else: “Compassion and respect, accept people for who they are without judgement.” About life: “When it’s over for me it will be over. That frees me from fear.”
At the end of our interview I asked her if she felt like she was 82. Her answer, “Who knows with 82 feels like.”
Indeed, Stella is ageless.