An Oregon public school teacher for 43 years and an advocate for senior citizens for another 25, 92-year-old Robert Slawson of Bend received the 1999 Alumni Award of Excellence from Western Oregon University.
“I feel overwhelmed and also have a feeling of humility to have been chosen to receive … the award,” said Slawson, class of 1929. “I realize that there are others just as deserving. To receive this highest honor given by the Alumni Association definitely will be the top highlight in my life.”
That statement says quite a bit, considering the many highlights in Slawson’s lifetime, first as a teacher and coach and then as a volunteer. So many events and anecdotes stand out in his sharp memory that a simple afternoon of conversation could never cover them all.
One of Slawson’s most intriguing tales comes from his early years as a principal at Sandy Elementary School. There from 1931 to 1936, he boarded in the home of a man who ran a pool hall in the back of his barbershop. While this didn’t bother Slawson, apparently the school board wasn’t quite as resilient. Told he couldn’t associate with the likes of a pool hall and must live elsewhere, the young teacher was incensed. After only five years as a teacher and three in Sandy, Slawson was ready to call it quits altogether. Fortunately, he stuck with it and continued teaching throughout the state until retirement in 1972.
At Cascade Junior High in Bend for the last nine years of his career, Slawson and wife Evelyn settled in the Bend area, where he has continued to make an impact on the communities of Central Oregon. With various commitments, he’s dedicated his efforts to improving the quality of life for senior citizens. Why? “I’m no good at cabinet work or working with my hands,” he jokes.“I decided to work with people instead. I’d always gained many friends and enjoyed people. I guess I would enjoy it or I wouldn’t do it for 25-plus years.”
In that time, he’s made probably as many friends as pupils he’s taught. The founder of the Bend Meals on Wheels program in 1976, Slawson has continued to lead fund-raising efforts for the past 23 years. In the mid-1970s, he was named to the Central Oregon Regional Housing Authority by the Deschutes County Commission and chaired the authority for two years. Soon after, he was named to fill a vacancy on Governor Victor Atiyeh’s Commission on Aging and was reappointed to a full three-year term in 1981. During his tenure on the commission, Oregon’s major accomplishments on senior citizen issues included the elderly abuse bill passed in 1983 and several pieces of legislation directed at improving nursing homes. In addition to governmental work, Slawson gained recognition for his volunteer work with terminally ill patients through the Hospice of Bend program.
His list of volunteer accomplishments continues on and on, but perhaps his greatest triumphs, he says, are to have made an impact throughout his life and to have lived all 92 years to their fullest. And living life to its fullest is exactly what he’ll continue to do. For a man who loves to shoot hoops and received a backyard basketball court for his 87th birthday, there’s too much going on to sit back and watch it all go by. His favorite piece of advice comes from a plaque he found at a little store in Yellowstone park.
“Don’t regret growing old. It’s a privilege denied to many.”
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