How does a person live a good life? Everyone has their take: religious devotion, thoughtfulness, financial success or luck. Entire libraries have been written on the topic, and it’s likely that no book is authoritative. And no single answer is complete.
It is easier to recognize a person who is living well, or who has lived well into advanced age. Then, perhaps, we can understand how the person did it, and how we may do it ourselves.
Former Hermiston educator Bill Schoonover seems to be such a person. On the occasion of his 95th birthday, he spoke to me of his life.
He came to Hermiston with his family when he was 14 years old. He lived here when it was possible to know everyone in town. The mayor, shop owners, doctors and teachers were people he knew well. The editor of the Hermiston Herald was a coach.
Schoonover made his name as an athlete. His sports included football, basketball and baseball. He was the quarterback of his high school team. Looking back at his days playing football, he said his high school team would not have won two games without him. In addition to being quarterback, he believes he was the best punter in the nation with the ability to kick a ball 60 yards.
“I was that good,” he said. According to Schoonover, he was not the only person who believed this.
In 1945, he was drafted into the Army, with the intention of going to Japan. The war ended with Japan’s surrender before he could join the effort, though. But he did stay in the service a couple of years.
He believes the patriotism of his day is being lost. In his day, he said, community and competence were valued. Citizens would follow leaders who proved their worth.
Schoonover went to the University of Oregon and obtained a degree in physical education and health.
He taught at schools in towns including Hermiston. His subjects included accounting, business and math. He also coached sports teams. His teams did not always do well, but he did make efforts to play as many athletes as possible. He did not like to have players riding the bench.
A good teacher, he said, should have average-to-above-average intelligence. He should also be a good listener. Attentive to his students, a good teacher should be aware that his students are actually learning the material and not simply nodding along in blind agreement.
A good coach should have been a good athlete.
He married twice, as he lost his first wife when she was in her 40s. He has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
There are many people who think highly of Schoonover. Caren Sargent, a devoted employee, praised Schoonover as being free of “arrogance or judgement.”
“He is a comrade,” she said. (He is an) ‘all- American’ athlete, honest coach, hard worker, loyal friend, extremely proud father, wears a heart of gold, and is the only man I’ve met, who truly appreciates everything he has ever had in his life.”
Shirley Harris, who lives in Hermiston has been a good friend of Schoonover’s for 75 years, said, “Bill has always been a thoughtful and kind friend. When he says he will be there, he always shows up. That’s just the type of person he has always been”
Speaking with this 95-year-old man, a person walks away with a better sense of the good life, because it seems Schoonover is living it. We, too, can emulate elements of his behavior to live and age well:
1. Humor. Schoonover does not seem to take himself too seriously, despite his success.
2. Humility. Though he calls himself “good,” he views his own greatest success as his ability to help others. When he was able to help other people achieve, he was the happiest.
3. Humanity. Schoonover loves his family and friends. He has actively tried to remember them. He also expresses empathy toward people less fortunate than he is. And when he votes, he chooses candidates who appear similarly kind.
There are other lessons that can be learned from his life, but this may be enough to meditate on for now. And if you remember Schoonover, seek him out. He would probably love to reminisce.
Erick Peterson is the editor and senior reporter of the Hermiston Herald.