Never too old: Resort at Squaw Creek ‘Rocktegenarin’ makes leap of faith
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. – Wayne Peterson is a sprightly guy with a steel-gray military haircut. Dressed out in the Resort at Squaw Creek bell hop uniform this indelible “Rocktegenarian” will celebrate 20 years at RSC this November.
He feted 80 years of age in July with the help of bell hop buddies. “They asked me what I had planned for my birthday,” said Peterson of the March 9 occasion. “I told them it was too far in advance to have plans.”
A fellow bell hop insisted Peterson join the RSC skydiving 16-person contingent July 13 for a little adventure.
Peterson, a pilot, former Navy, newspaper and television man, never thought he’d jump out of a perfectly good airplane. “We had no idea of the timing,” he said. “We got there at 10:15 a.m. and by 11:15 a.m. we were done.” Upon arrival, they watched an instruction video, “signed their lives away” with a liability release, boarded the plane and climbed 13,000 feet into the atmosphere.
On went harnesess, instructor hook up and before he had a chance to blink: Whoosh! Peterson was out of the plane somersaulting through the air. “I was on my back going ‘Oh S@#%’!” said Peterson, a man of faith whose vocabulary took a dive. He free falled. The instructor pulled the cord for a “drag” chute, after which the full chute was deployed. They floated down, down, down, swinging in circles like carnival chair planes, high-fiving with the 20-something female photographer. “It was a nice ride, with plenty of time to look around,” commented Peterson.
They executed a stand-up landing, high-fived again and were done.
Peterson felt the after burner: “I started to nod and yawn on the way home as the adrenaline left.”
An invigoriating past
Peterson rebounded with vim and vigor, as he has throughout his life. Born in Minnesota to a newspapering family, he started in ninth grade as a “printer’s devil” after his father’s death. It was expected he go into the business, but four years of 16-18 hour days and Peterson decided it was ruining his health.
He wrote and produced commercials in Fargo, N.D. for six years and moved to Reno in 1963 on the strength of a job with a local TV station. Unfortunately, there had been a shake up at the station and the job no longer existed. Peterson tried various minor jobs in real estate and retailing when a friend asked him if he’d mind doing something different. A bell hop career was born: He began at the old Holiday Hotel, worked as bell captain at Howard Johnson’s and put in time at the Old Mapes hotel.
Before the Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley opened, Peterson was hired as a bell hop. “It’s my favorite job ever,” he said. “I’m surrounded by younger people – you think younger.” He also enjoys the fact RSC encourages fun at work and teamwork to keep things running up to RSC par.
“I feel the age number is only a number, it’s what you do with your life that matters,” advised Peterson.
Faith as foundation
The Episcopal church was a cornerstone in the foundation of Peterson’s life. He begins the day with thanks and praise, drives with prayer in his heart and gives thanks before and after meals. In 1965, he reached out to a different church and raised his hands (not typical in a traditional Episcopalian service) in prayer: “There are many paths to the Lord.” His favorite hymn is “How Great Thou Art.”
Serving his country
Another piece of Peterson’s rock solid work and life ethic was enlisting in the Navy in 1950: The day before his draft notice. He went into the Navy as a journalist and served as Pearl Harbor’s Public Information Officer handling news and the movement of troops and their dependents, often arranging a hula troupe as greeters. He served in the Navy just shy of four years and almost 14 with the Navy reserve. Peterson recommends the Navy for young men and women interested in the military, there is a place to clean up, three meals a day and a bunk. “It was the start of my maturing, it helped build my self confidence. It’s like anything, you get out what you put in.”
Is there anything that scares this skydiving, bell hopping man? Peterson didn’t miss a beat: “Marriage.” He’s been married four times, the last both romantic and poignant. After three times wed, with a happy extended family, the single Mr. Peterson was working in Reno and spotted his sweetheart from 40 yeas gone by playing slots. He approached her, they spoke: An old flame ignited. She returned at Christmas and told Peterson of her cancer. Before her trip home Peterson blurted “You better get well, we have a wedding coming up.” His first love and last wife rests in peace. Wayne Peterson hops along.
The Peterson plan
When asked what helps maintain his exuberant 80-year-old health, Peterson explains he eats nutritious foods, takes supplements and said: “I stay away from doctors.” He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes nine years ago and has successfully controlled his blood sugar through diet and exercise (please consult with your physician or health care provider before changing any regimen). He pays particular attention to carbs and what his body tells him. Bell hopping also keeps his muscles toned. “I told the boys [at RSC], if I go down at work, don’t get a gurney. I want to go out on a bell cart.”