Allen Shrode: Fitness Among Friends

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson March 15, 2016 23:18
MIL_0218-edited

Allen Shrode leads the Sonora Senior Center’s Stretch for Life class

“HUP, two, three, four. HUP, two, three, four.”

With arms swinging and knees lifting, more than 20 men and women stride single file behind an instructor calling cadence. They march from the exercise room at the Sonora Senior Center to an outdoor deck and back again.

After two circuits, they return to their chairs and await the next instruction from 91-year-old Allen Shrode of Sonora.

What motivates him to be a fitness instructor at this age? A lifelong commitment to fitness? A desire for immortality?

“No, no,” Shrode says. “It’s the camaraderie as much as the exercise. The people in the class are my friends. For most of us, it’s a social outlet as much as an exercise class.”

After losing his wife of 54 years to cancer in 2001, Shrode had a difficult time filling a sudden and very large void in his life. He tried travel – something he had enjoyed with Mary before her death – but it was not much fun alone.

At a Senior Health and Fitness Day in 2003, he took part in a walk around the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora, and then agreed to try an exercise class sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

“I was no fitness buff,” he admits. “I smoked cigarettes from the time I was 15 until I was 38. Then I smoked cigars for another 25 years. The COPD I have today is probably a result.”

So what kind of training does Shrode have to be a fitness instructor?

“I can field-strip a .50-caliber machine gun with my eyes shut,” he says, referring to his service in World War II. “Other than that, not much. My dad was a good athlete, but I really wasn’t.”

Allen's-mom-Vivian-Edwards-with-Charlie-Chaplin-fix-edited

Shrode’s mother, actress Vivian Edwards, with Charlie Chaplin

Shrode’s father worked as a driller in the oil fields of Southern California. His mother was a silent film star who worked with, among others, Charlie Chaplin. Vivian Edwards left show business after marrying Allen’s dad, but Shrode still remembers those glamorous times.

“She and Louise Fazenda went into movies together,” Shrode says. “Louise married producer Hal B. Wallis, and I remember as a boy visiting their big beautiful home in a gated community. They had a swimming pool and their own movie theater with 18 or 20 chairs and a big screen.”

During the Depression, Shrode’s father went to Colombia to work in Standard Oil’s South American fields. “When I was five, my mother and I sailed through the Panama Canal and joined my dad for a year down there. My little friends and I played with snakes and all kinds of creatures. I learned enough Spanish to get by.”

The family moved to Alameda County.

A month after graduating from high school in 1943, Shrode joined the U.S. Army and became an airplane armorer, loading bombs on aircraft and servicing machine guns. He saw duty in the Philippines and Okinawa toward the end of the war and was stationed in Japan for a short time after its surrender.

After his discharge, Shrode headed to Yosemite with friends to look for jobs, and there he met and married Mary Jane Howard in 1946. The couple raised sons Michael and Terry in the Bay Area, where Allen worked in automobile sales and other jobs until retiring at 56. The couple traveled for five years in a 28-foot trailer until settling in Sonora in the mid-1980s. Mary’s death 15 years later led him to the fitness class.

When he joined the class at the Senior Center 12 years ago, Shrode found new friends who had also faced illness and loss. All enjoyed the exercise but like Shrode, loved the company.

He also found Doris Ryan, a kindred soul who had buried two husbands. “Doris and I became good friends and then we became … I guess you could say we were sweethearts. We did everything together.”

The class where they met almost ended when funding disappeared in 2007. To keep it going, Shrode and several of his classmates volunteered to lead what’s now called Stretch for Life. Eight years later, Shrode is still at it.

“It’s my main social thing,” he says. “I never schedule other appointments for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Yes, I want the others to get some flexibility and get some strength. Mainly I want them to become better able to cope with this world.”

MIL_0304-editedAllen opens each hour-long class and leads the first 15 minutes, the middle 10 minutes, and the final exercises. He chooses the music, always a rousing march for the first half and usually oldies from the ’50s for the second half. One of the other students helping lead the class is Sonora resident Marlene Lyons, who is 77 but like so many of the others, looks much younger.

“I started coming to the class after hip replacement surgery,” Lyons says, “and when Allen wanted some help leading, it was easy for me to do that.”

How does Shrode rate as a teacher?

“Allen is great, just wonderful,” says octogenarian Dorothy Walorny, who rides the county transit bus from Jamestown to attend. “The class makes me feel great. And if I ever miss a session, Allen calls to check on me.”

Catherine Lemonnier, 84, has survived cancer twice. “The class always makes me feel better,” the Sonora woman says. “It makes you confident you can do something.”

Jo Muraira, 83, attended with John, her husband of 60 years, until his death in 2011. “I stayed home then, and I got too depressed,” she admits. “I don’t drive, but people in the class now give me rides. Everybody’s so great here. Class is part of the reason I feel better now.”

“I come to keep from gaining weight,” says Jasper Asta of Jamestown. “It keeps me in shape.” When told he looks much younger than his 86 years, he laughs, punches the sky and says, “That’s because I take this class.”

Shrode chats with Jean Shumway

Shrode chats with Jean Shumway

Columbia resident Jean Shumway has been attending for more than a decade. Now 93, she survived a car crash shortly after leaving class on a January day in 2009. After a hospital stay and months of recovery for a broken neck, she returned, oxygen tank in hand – like Shrode, she smoked in her youth – and now counts cadence for various exercises.

The class, Shumway declares, is “more damn fun than anything else.”

Just as his students feel better through exercise, Shrode’s own health has improved. The expiration date on his COPD inhalers has passed, and he hasn’t refilled the prescriptions.

“I have it pretty well controlled now,” he says. “I’m sure the exercise has helped.”

He knows he can’t be a fitness instructor forever. After all, he’s nearly the oldest one in the class. “I want to do it as long as I’m able, as long as my legs can handle it,” he says.

Shrode also knows there are benefits far beyond physical fitness. He holds up a thick stack of sympathy cards sent to him after his sweetheart, Doris, passed away in August. “All these were sent to me from people in the class.”

“I miss her,” he says. “But the class helps. And I know life goes on.”

MIL_0294-edited

Jeane Kiely of Jamestown works out in Shrode’s class

Stretch for Life: Strength Training for Older Adults The class meets from 1-2pm Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Sonora Senior Center, 540 Greenley Rd.  All the exercises can be modified, and many can be completed while sitting in a chair. Newcomers are welcome. Suggested donation is $2. Call (209) 533-2622 to learn more.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson March 15, 2016 23:18
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet

Let me tell you a sad story. There are no comments yet, but yours can be the first!

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*