Hard at work at 75 years of age

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- "When I was 20, I knew that 75 was old," says the gray-haired man in the uniform of a 17th Civil Engineer Squadron civilian. "When I was 30, 40, 50, I knew that 75 was old. So I'm an old man," he says, and then pauses. A grin crosses his face. "I don't feel 75."

Whether he felt it or not, Don Hedges turned 75 on July 27. Despite his age, the one-time 17 CES Civilian of the Year still walks with the gait of a much younger man, and says he works as hard now as he did when he was an Airman himself many years ago.

Mr. Hedges served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1962, during which, between his endeavors toward pilot training at Goodfellow, he served as an aircraft mechanic. He said he was glad to see Goodfellow finally display all four of "his" planes: the T-6 Texan, the T-28 Trojan, the F-4 Phantom and of course the B-25 Mitchell. Mr. Hedges said he worked on the T-6, T-28 and B-25 while he was in the Air Force, and worked on the F-4 as a civilian with McDonnell Douglas.

After leaving the Air Force as a staff sergeant, Mr. Hedges took a job with McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, Mo. After 11 years of working as an engineer, and then two years farming around St. Louis, he decided he needed to come back to Texas.

Years later, he started part-time work at Goodfellow, which eventually became a full-time position with the 17 CES. Mr. Hedges said he has really enjoyed this job.

"I feel good," he said, dismissing with a wave of his hand the idea that he was getting old. "I know it's time to quit, but I haven't wanted to." Mr. Hedges said working for so long has helped him stay active. "My dad said the best way to kill time is to work it to death," he quipped, adding that he's never bored.

Despite his love for his job, however, Mr. Hedges said he's decided to retire next year on his 76th birthday. He and his wife, Anne, plan on moving to Wyoming, where Mr. Hedges was stationed during his Air Force career, to be closer to their daughter.

He said that people are always coming up to him, asking for his secret to staying so fit and active as he begins his 76th year. He urges them simply to stay active.

"I don't have a secret," he said. "I've been active all my life. I feel very fortunate to be so active."

Mr. Hedges may not have a secret for staying healthy physically, but he said he's learned one important thing about being healthy emotionally. "I try and make people smile wherever I am," Mr. Hedges said. Making people laugh or smile gives him pleasure, he added, and breaks up what might otherwise be a monotonous day.

As Mr. Hedges heads toward retirement, when he plans to relax with his wife and continue his crafts, he said he's enjoyed life, the good times and the bad. He encourages people to do the same.

"Life is short, no matter how old you are," he said. "There's never enough time to do the things you want to do, or help the people you want to help."