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Sep 5

Handing over the reins – The Hutchinson News

Kathy Hanks

Whenit comes tohobbies, John Shaffer can only think of one- work.

It's how the 90-year-old Hutchinson attorney enjoys spending his time.

Continuing to serveas counsel with Martindale Swearer Shaffer Ridenour LLP, he considers himself lucky.

As long as you have your health and your mind you can help people, Shaffer said.

But he also knows when its time to bow out from certain leadership positions. Thats why after 15 years serving as president of the Delos V. Smith Senior Citizens Foundation, he resigned earlier this summer. He still plans to remain on the board of directors and will continue his weekly pro bono senior consultations at the center.

For the past 40 years, the Delos V. SmithSenior Citizens Foundationhas been a focal point in Shaffers life, beginning when Delos V. Smith Jr. came to him with a dream that led to a community center for those over age 60.

By March 1987, the doors opened at 101 W. First Ave. in the front of a building that had once been Smiths parents' harness business. At first, there was a car repair shop in the back of the building. But when they were ready to expand south, they took over that space and eventually expanding into the neighboring space to the west.

Helping a vision become a reality

Shaffers earliest childhoodmemories include Delos V. Smith Jr. His parents, Hutchinson attorneys Don and Mabel Shaffer, were friends with the Smith family. Don Shaffer handled their legal affairs. That was handed over to John Shaffer when he joined the firm.

At the time, he wasnt the Delos we all remember, Shaffer said. He was avery good looking young man.

During his career he acted, produced and directed plays on Broadway and London. He starred in a number of movies and television shows before retiring to Hutchinson.

He loved to shock people, Shaffer said. "I grew up around him and he was so accomplished. He was a beautiful pianist, he spoke about seven languages."

By the last decades of his life, as hespent more time in Hutchinson, he became known as an eccentric with his long beard, dressed in sweatpants and fishnet tank tops.

People would ask why he didn't shave his beard off and he said there were lots of parts where they required beards and it was easier to already have it, Shaffer said.

His bushy beard was short in his role as Scanlon in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Shaffer said.

His friendship with Marilyn Monroe is legendary. Supposedly, Smith had to lift her on the stage the night she sang Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy because her dress was so tight. Later that night thedress tore down the back and it was Smith who sewed it for her.

Maybe he did, Shaffer said, of the story. He had no reason to exaggerate. He wasn't trying to impress anyone.

Smiths original idea was to set up a theater in Hutchinson. But as he grew older, he began to recognize that the community would be better served by having a senior center for those over 60.

Nine years later the Delos V. Smith Senior Center opened in March 1987.

When organizing the board, Delos said he wanted his banker, his accountant, his doctor, lawyer and judge to serve, Shaffer said. I proposed term limits but Delos didn't have any use for that.

I just thought a rotation on the board made sense. But Delos was comfortable keeping the people he knew and liked. He said if they wanted off they could resign.

Shaffer and Nation Meyer are the only two original board members still living.

Though he died in 1997, Smiths dream is a reality today.

Board member Kent Longenecker recalled that Shaffer and Smith visited Good Shepherd Centers together as Smith came up with the concept of what he wanted the local center to become.

John has been the steward, Longenecker said. I can't think of a better word to describe his dedication and work to accomplish what Delos wanted. The center has beenblessed to have many volunteers, and at the very top is John.

Whats been accomplished

The board has an obligation to the foundation to keep Delos Smiths objectives going, Shaffer said.

At the time of his death, the eccentric man who would rather save money buffing the floor himself, bequeathed his estate of $25 million to the Delos V. Smith Senior Citizens Foundation. His intention was to promote educational and cultural programs and support the performing arts, and he wanted the center to be free of charge. The only expense is for personal project supplies.

The people of Reno County are lucky to have this organization, Longenecker said.

The center has grown remarkably, Shaffer said, and he believes Smith would be proud. The month's schedule is packed with everything from Yoga and manicures to Tai Chi and Qi Gong classes. The schedules keep growingwith up to 40 people for chair exercise classes.

Certain days are busier than others. Every Tuesday about 80 to 100 people show up for bingo. They have about 900 people for the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

In the past several years, Shaffer says 68,000 people had come through the doors and the numbers have gone up every year.

All these years later Smith is still a presence in the building. Autographed black and white photographs of Hollywood stars line the walls in the centers auditorium. Many signed by the artists, with special wishes to Smith.

There are also photos of Smith that show theprogression of the man. His baby grand piano is on the stage and his collection of Lester Raymer artwork lines the hallway.

When he joined the board, Shaffer never dreamed he would be spending 40 years involved with the center. A year ago he told the board he would step down when he turned 90 in April of this year.

I am reaching an age where I dont know how much longer I am going to be around and theyneeded to plan and get somebody to carry on what we have been doing, Shaffer said.

Shaffers retirement follows that of Earline Polk, who served as the centers director for 25. She stepped down in February.

The center wouldn't be what it is today without Earline Polks dedication and loyalty and the things she did, Shaffer said.

The board continues to search for a new director.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jack Wortman will serve as president, Butch Dillon will serve as vice president and Diane Lee is treasurer.

As for fulfilling Smiths vision, Shaffer hopesthe manwould be happy with the way the center has evolved.

Delos hoped this would go on forever, Shaffer said. And we do too.

Read the rest here:
Handing over the reins - The Hutchinson News

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