Massive hands put to good use

Kristi O’Harran

Kristi’s Notebook

Measuring hands against Mike Issel, my fingers were an inch below his tips.

Mother always said I had piano fingers, long digits that usually win a measuring contest. Issel had massive hands.

He’s put them to good use through his 76 years. Warm Beach Senior Community near Stanwood is lucky Issel came off the recreational vehicle road to settle there with his wife, Betty, and their perky Maltese named Misty.

His jack-of-all-trades expertise has been a real blessing to remodeling projects around the senior apartments. When others his age play bingo, go fishing or catch "The Price is Right" on TV, Issel keeps busy sharing his skills.

The former Marine grew up in Northern California and sold cars for a decade before retiring. He was a partner in an agency that offered Jaguars, Rolls Royces and MGs.

After he retired, the couple came to Stanwood with a group called SOWERS — Seniors on Wheels Ever Ready. In return for giving the group a place to park their RVs, SOWERS agreed to do 72 hours of volunteer work in three weeks.

The Issels fell in love with the community. Even temperatures played a part in their decision to settle here because Mike Issel suffers from arthritis and skin cancer.

"I spent too much time in the sun in the South Pacific," Mike Issel said. "Treat me like a mushroom."

Though no longer working with SOWERS, Issel is as busy as ever as a volunteer for the Warm Beach maintenance department. The senior assisted living apartments needed to be remodeled. There wasn’t enough money in the budget to bring some 25-year-old apartments up to par.

Issel pitched in.

"I don’t know if you have ever replaced a bathtub with a shower, but it’s quite a job," Issel said. "Several residents have told me they’ll appreciate the safety and ease of stepping into a shower instead of climbing into a tub. There’s even a seat they can sit on if they want."

Steve Wilson, director of environmental services at Warm Beach, said Issel has been an asset to the maintenance department.

"There are others who volunteer, but he is the main one," Wilson said. "They say ‘This is what I can do.’ "

Issel’s attitude is shared by others at the senior community.

"Commitment and love on the part of our volunteers make Warm Beach a special place," said Executive Director David Fairchild. "All of us feel good about contributing to a wider community. And our volunteers enrich our program more than words can tell."

More than 200 volunteers gave 36,616 hours of service last year. Their jobs ran the gamut from visiting sick folks in the nursing facility and answering phones to helping staff in the dining room. Some volunteers teach English as a second language to employees and to others in the community. Others catalog books in the 2,000-volume library. Still others lead aqua aerobics classes for their peers.

Issel said he enjoys keeping his construction skills sharp.

"I’m not a golfer and I just love to keep busy," he said. "I kid the maintenance team that I’m happy to do anything just so I don’t mess up my schedule — as if I had one."

While we chatted, Misty wanted her master to hold her on his lap. Issel’s wife, Betty, was busy working at the Warm Beach Thrift Shop. Issel was going to downtown Everett later that day to pick up something for the maintenance department.

We really measured our fingers. Issel said he can stretch his digits around the nonhandle side of a one-gallon milk jug and pick it up.

What impressive, useful hands.

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