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Running Strong 100 Years Young

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To ease stress, you can walk, ride a bike, or run into Bud Lewis. The exercise may lift your spirits but the man’s giant smile, hearty handshake, bear hug, and kind words will warm you like a summer day.

Meet Leland Stanford Lewis, recently turned 100. Called “Bud” by everyone, he’s hard to miss. The silver-haired mountain of a man, still strong at 6’2” with sparkling sky-blue eyes, has a voice that fills a room as he remembers your name, asks about your family, conveys a compliment, and introduces you to whomever is near.

“I’m the luckiest 100-year-old man that ever lived,” he says. “I have countless beautiful friends of all ages. The kids in my neighborhood hung balloons and streamers along our street for my birthday in August. I am constantly amazed at the outpouring. Basically, it’s because I like people.”

Friends old and new are members of the Bud Bandwagon from the many chapters of his life as an athlete, National Guard member, Army Reserve Colonel, police sergeant, driving instructor, security manager, and commander of the Portland Police Bureau Sunshine Division.

“For 57 straight years, I haven’t missed a Christmas packing boxes for 2,500 needy families through the Sunshine Division,” he says.

From May until his birthday in August this year, Lewis walked laps every morning to raise funds for the nonprofit Sunshine Division that he led for 10 years. His original goal was 100 laps and $100,000 by his birthday. An outpouring of friends followed him daily as he either stood and pushed his walker forward or sat and pushed it backward around the track. He surpassed his goal, racking up a whopping 261 laps that raised $124,000.

“I never missed a day because I told people I’d be there,” Lewis says. “One day I had minor surgery on my neck with 15 stitches and walked two or three laps after that.” His accolades are nothing new.

A member of the Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC) for 43 years, he’s often called the “Mayor of the MAC.” Years ago, young men in their 20s didn’t mind when Lewis beat them in the MAC Decathlon. He won the entire 10-event competition with a perfect score five years running, at ages 68 through 73 — always cheering for others. Some of his age-group records still stand today. Lewis has served on more than 50 MAC committees, was secretary of the Board of Trustees in 1993, headed its annual blood drive, and is the recipient of almost every award given to senior members.

The Bud Lewis Award is given annually to male decathlete who best exemplify his spirit. The Multnomah Athletic Foundation’s Bud Award provides scholarships for underprivileged students.

Lewis says he grew into athletics and got better as he got older. He played soccer and sandlot football in elementary school, baseball and basketball in high school and city leagues, and was in the National Guard. His father had joined the Guard after moving to America with his family of four children from Alberta Canada, where he’d struggled as a wheat farmer. His second child, named Leland after the founder of Stanford University, became “Buddy” then “Bud.”

After graduating high school, in 1936 Lewis joined the 41st Infantry Division of the National Guard. Five years later his was among the first US units shipped out in World War II and into ground combat, fighting across the islands of the Southwest Pacific. Sent home with hepatitis requiring a five-month hospital stay, the tall, blond soldier met and married a military friend’s cousin, a brunette beauty named Janet. He returned to combat and finally came home for good December 1945.

His beloved wife passed away in 2013. Bud joined the Army Reserves, became a colonel, and the Portland Police Bureau as a sergeant and director of the safety education unit, giving talks to schools and the community. In 1973 he became commander of the Portland Police Bureau Sunshine Division. “Sergeant Lewis” also gave private driving lessons for some 20 years.

He still drives today. “I know more lovely kids than anyone in this city,” he smiles. After 31 years as a police officer, Lewis retired and became corporate manager of security for Esco Corporation for 10 years. In 2010 he was national president of the 41st Infantry Division Association.

In retirement Lewis hasn’t been idle. He usually lifts weights three times a week at the MAC and now does isometrics daily at home. “Home” is a light-filled house with a spectacular view of the West Hills that he built with his father’s help 63 years ago. There he and Janet raised daughter Diane, a retired school psychologist, and son Douglas, a retired intensive care nurse.

Bud and Janet enjoyed gardening, and once had 80 rhododendrons. He is a history buff and talks at length about the First Council of Nicaea convened in AD 325 by Roman Emperor Constantine. “Besides history, I love poetry and recite it at night to keep my mind active,” he says. “With rue my heart is laden for golden friends I had, for many a rose-lipt maiden and many a lightfoot lad” (from A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad”). A friend once made a sign for Lewis to carry in the Rose Festival Starlight Parade as part of the Sunshine Division’s float. It read, “Bud Lewis: Life of Service.” “I like those three simple words,” he says. “They say more with less and are simplistic but profound.”

What makes a man 100 years young? “Genes, never smoking, drinking sparingly, not being too narrow on anything, being involved, learning from my mistakes, exercising, eating a wide variety of foods, nice family, positive attitude, and I like people. Take time to say hello. You enrich your own life by the riches of others. They are a treasure.”

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