EVERETT — At a time when he could have justifiably retreated, Everett Frank Irwin stepped out to help others.
Three years ago Irwin’s beloved wife of 50 years, Alma, died and left him with an empty house and a lot of memories.
Irwin, 71, is now a co-chairman of the Sno-King Bluebills, a group of retired Boeing employees who volunteer in Snohomish and north King counties.
“Many people become couch potatoes, and I could have been one,” Irwin said. “But if you want companionship and camaraderie, along with a sense of achievement, volunteering is the way to go.”
“Everett of Everett,” as he was known during his tenure as a Boeing draftsman, had been his wife’s caregiver for several years before she died.
They were still teenagers when they married, he said.
Irwin, who had grown up in Seattle, was stationed with the Air Force in Colorado when he proposed to his girl from Denver.
The couple raised four children and bought their Everett home on April Fool’s Day 1971, the same year the maker of 747s suffered its infamous slowdown and subsequent big layoff.
At the time, Irwin was working as a truck driver for Boeing. After being laid off, he drove a refrigerated semi on a route from British Columbia to Oregon.
When an injury ended his truck-driving days, Irwin went back to school and trained as a draftsman. Snatched up by Boeing before his graduation, Irwin ended up as a drafter on several big Boeing projects.
Irwin said he and his wife thought his retirement from Boeing was going to mean rest and relaxation and time with their six grandchildren. His health had not been good and they looked forward to doing some traveling.
Then she suffered a series of falls that eventually led to her death.
“I had so much time on my hands,” Irwin said. “I just walked around the house and imagined her there.”
Then, as he had done many times during his life, Irwin reinvented himself, this time as a volunteer.
“The more I got into it, the more I wanted to do,” he said.
He earned a certificate of appreciation from the Everett Police Department for his work as a member of the department’s senior volunteer patrol. In one year, Irwin was responsible for locating nearly a dozen stolen cars.
He took Community Emergency Response Team training at the Everett Fire Department and became a member of a group of emergency ham radio operators based in Brier.
He joined the Retired Senior Volunteer Program advisory council and is active on the Valley View neighborhood council.
Irwin’s current focus is the Bluebills.
“I used to think the Bluebills had something to do with the snowbirds,” he said. “I joined, and before I knew it, I was a co-chairman.”
Named after the first Boeing airplane, a biplane known as the Bluebill, the volunteer program in Snohomish County focuses much of its work on students and helping older people.
Filling Christmas stockings and school backpacks, providing activities at the Imagine Children’s Museum, working as tutors at many schools and helping senior citizens move into new accommodations are just some of the organization’s projects.
During the recent United Way Days of Caring, the group restored a garden at the former Everett railway depot, a spot that’s noticed by train passengers traveling through the city, Irwin said.
“Working as a volunteer, I’ve built up my strength. I feel good. And that’s part of the reward,” he said. “I am very busy now and I enjoy it tremendously.”
Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or email@example.com.
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For information about the Boeing Bluebills, call 425-717-3755, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.bluebills.org.