By Nancy Gilkey
Northeast Community Center member
According to successful college basketball player and coach Abe Lemons, “The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.”
Gary Gibbs, a retired Intel engineer, might agree with that sentiment as he appears to be as busy in retirement as he was while working. While at Intel he would leave home at 5 a.m. for the Hillsboro company headquarters and return home at 8 p.m. Gibbs still wakes up at 5 a.m. but now he frequently leaves to attend a 6 a.m. boot camp-style class at the Northeast Community Center with his wife, Kathy Niemi. The exercise class is the first of three or four trips he typically makes in one day to the non-profit Center where he not only stays physically fit and active, but he volunteers as well. In 2014 alone, Gary totaled 520 hours of volunteer services at the NECC. He scampered along the roof with contractors, took bids on future projects and changed lightbulbs.
After Gibbs finished a 21-year career as an engineer, he knew he didn’t want “to get rusty and throw it all away,” as he explains. He knew about Intel’s Matching Grant Program, which aimed to recognize and motivate their employees to “engage in outreach and volunteerism to make our communities a better place to live, work and play.” Gibbs believed that sharing his talents at the NECC, where he’d been exercising on the weekends since 1978, was an obvious choice. For every hour Intel’s retirees spend volunteering at a school or qualified non-profit organization, a donation or match of $10 is provided to the organization from the Intel Foundation.
Gibbs took full advantage of the volunteer opportunities at the NECC, and there were many. He quickly became chair of the Building & Grounds Committee, which works in coordination with staff in addressing NECC’s major-system maintenance needs and also takes the lead in the project management of major facility improvements. Having learned to keep careful track of his hours and efforts during his career, it was little additional effort on Gibbs’ part to continue tabulating his time for the Intel Foundation. From 2010-2014, Gary donated 2,611 hours, totaling $26,110 for NECC donated by the Intel Foundation.
The NECC’s executive director, Kim Montagriff says, “Gary has made tremendous contributions to the NECC. With his professional background, Gary has the skills to locate the cause of building system challenges in our historic facility, and to identify and implement cost-effective solutions. While the generous matching contributions from the Intel Foundation are an important source of financial support for the NECC, it is Gary’s professional knowledge, tireless efforts, and sneaky wit that are indispensable to the NECC and are instrumental in keeping the facility in good condition.”
With the NECC building dating back to 1925, Gibbs finds that there is no shortage of things to do or ways that he can help the old building continue running in an energy efficient way.
“There are constant surprises,” Gibbs explains about the 90-year-old building. He’s convinced that the producers for the locally filmed TV show “Grimm” have an episode waiting to be filmed once they see the boilers in the NECC basement. That being said, he knows there are ways to work with or, when necessary, replace aging materials. For instance, in 2013 he led the energy-savings project to install a heat-recovery system and heat-saving cover for the swimming pool. In 2014, he facilitated the replacement of the gymnasium’s overhead lights with LEDs, which ended up offsetting approximately 7 tons of CO2 generated by fossil fuels, equal to taking more than one car off the road. Gibbs is currently busy spearheading the replacement of the building’s exterior and parking lot lights with LEDs, which will lead to additional energy and cost savings.
Gibbs admits that he likes a puzzle and the fact that he can utilize his knowledge and leadership skills that he developed over the span of his career. He approaches the challenges he faces with the older building or with dilemmas brought before the NECC board, (on which he serves as the vice president and chair of the Building and Grounds Committee) by asking the question he asked himself everyday as an engineer: “What’s the problem?” He knows that it’s easy to get carried away with trying to implement several new good ideas, but without applying a structured problem solving technique, he recognizes that he can get tangled in a mire of good intentions and more issues than what really needs to be addressed. When boiling things down with this simple question, he solves problems more cost-effectively and without the loss of his time and energy. (Although, Gibbs acknowledges, it might be wise not to ask his wife, Kathy, whether it’s tasks at home or at the NECC that take precedence.)
“I’m a do-er,” Gibbs says of himself, but he believes that many retirees fall under that same description. “Volunteering is a great way to avoid boredom,” he explains. After spending his whole life working hard to develop a skillset and a career, he knows that retirees innately know how things work. He believes that retirees naturally project-manage and would therefore be a tremendous asset to a number of organizations that need that kind of volunteer support.
Gibbs’ efforts are evident all over the NECC, whether it’s with the repairs and advances he makes to the physical structure, in his smiling willingness to go unclog a shower drain, or the financial reward the Intel Matching Grant provides to offset programming and facility costs, thanks to his efforts. The community of NECC benefits greatly from Gary Gibbs’ spirit of sharing. If you, too, are interested in volunteering or just learning more about the NECC, additional information may be found at necommunitycenter.org or at the Northeast Community Center, 1630 N.E. 38th Ave., or by calling 503-284-3377.