Clint Smith is a jack-of-all-trades, a man who can fix your car one minute and bake you a pie the next.
Those traits are invaluable in his role as Super Volunteer at the Roseburg Senior Center. He is at the center five days a week, six to seven hours a day, doing everything from patching the roof to running to the market to working the grill in the kitchen. He’s even picked blackberries in season for the tasty cobbler the center is known for.
“He’s one of the foundations of the Senior Center. He’s our rock,” fellow volunteer BG Tall Bear said. “Anything and everything that he is asked to do, he does it. He means so much to all of us at the center.”
Smith smiles when asked about his seemingly tireless motor.
“Some people would have a hard time keeping up with me and I’m almost 70-years-old,” he said.
Smith picked up his work ethic out of necessity at a young age. He grew up in Roseburg in a family with six sisters and four brothers. Money was tight.
“If I wanted to go to a show or buy some candy, I had to make my own money,” Smith said.
When Smith was eight, he started working weekends for a neighbor who was a general contractor, mostly driving nails and doing carpentry. He’s always been good with his hands.
“The only type of work I don’t do is secretarial. Anything to do with my hands, like mechanics, cooking, I can do,” Smith said.
He continued to sharpen his rounded set of skills during his tenure in the National Guard. Smith joined the Guard in 1976. He went to basic training in Missouri and then received advanced training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“I really don’t know why I joined,” Smith said of his decision to enlist. “I just thought I’d do a little bit of time and get some more money and serve my country,” he said.
He spent two years in Wichita, Texas before returning to Roseburg, where he continued his service. One weekend a month and two weeks each summer Smith would train as a National Guardsman.
That training included learning how to drive heavy vehicles, shoot howitzers and work grenade launchers. Smith said he even learned how to put together and take apart assembling machine guns while blindfolded.
“We did the same training that regular army did and some of the things that the army didn’t do,” he said.
His eight and a half year tenure in the National Guard was during peace time and Smith never saw combat. One highlight, however, was training with the Scottish military in the English Channel.
“I heard the bagpipes and all that,” he said.
Smith has done a number of odd jobs in Roseburg over the years, including a stint as a cook at the old Tom Tom Restaurant. He’s mostly retired now, and has had to learn to get by on the roughly $950 a month he gets from the government.
He drives a blue 1999 Plymouth Voyager that was given to him about three months ago. It didn’t drive at the time, but Smith put a starter in and got it doing.
Before that he drove a 1995 GM Safari van. During a stretch Smith was forced to use the van as his home. He’s now living in a room provided to him by a couple he met at the Senior Center. Smith does gardening and other work around the house in exchange for the room.
Granted, he’s not there very much. His volunteer work at the Senior Center, which he’s done for about three years now, takes up much of his time. He shows up like clockwork Tuesdays through Saturdays, ready to lend a hand.
“He’s here every morning at 7:30 with coffee and a smile for everyone,” said kitchen manager Doris Loveday.
Smith does basically whatever is needed. He’ll change a light bulb one minute and then help clean up the kitchen the next. He’s just eager to help, Loveday said.
“We’ll say ‘this cake needs to be frosted’ and before you know it the son of a gun has it frosted,” she said. “It’s got to the point where, when I need something done he’s my go-to person. He’s just an all-around help.”
Smith has also developed a special friendship with John Bechtel, the head cook at the senior center. Bechtel is going blind, and often leans on Smith for help in the kitchen.
“He’s pretty much taking care of John really well,” Loveday said. “He keeps him up and running. And he still does the heavy lifting.”
Smith acknowledges he sometimes struggles to make it all work. He’s losing his hearing — all those years working around skill saws, diesel engines and the like without earplugs — and is struggling to find a way to pay for hearing aids. He went to one local place but they wanted $3,500, Smith said. He’s hoping a hearing center near Eugene can get him a better deal.
Sure, it would be nice to have his own apartment and a few more dollars to get by on. But Smith has friends and a purpose in life through his volunteer work, and that suits him just fine.
“I’m happy with the way things are. I’ve got enough money to do what I want to do,” Smith said. “I figure why be greedy. As long as I make ends meet, I’m happy.”