For Salem’s seniors, “fix it” man always there to help

Bill Stortzum has been supervising the woodshop at Center 50+ for years. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Bill Stortzum has kept a dollhouse in his garage for three years, waiting for its owner to be in better health before its finished.

Stortzum, 68, has been a longtime fixture at Center 50+ and is known as the “fix it person.” He used to work at the city-run senior center which offers classes and meals, but now volunteers his time at the woodshop a couple days a week after retiring two years ago.

His motto seems to be: “If I can do it, I can do it. If I can’t, I’ll try.”

Seniors come to him asking for help with various projects, like broken dishwashers, wobbly chairs or dollhouses.

“I had a gal that used to come in. She’s had all sorts of medical problems. And she wanted to make a doll house,” he said. “I put time off to the side so I can help this lady, because nobody else wants to help her. She really can’t do a whole lot of anything, but as long as I’m there to help her she has fun. And that’s all seniors are wanting to do, to have a little input, to have a little fun with it.”

He doesn’t remember the woman’s name, but he’s not the type to think twice about offering his help. The dollhouse project isn’t the only thing Stortzum has been keeping in his garage.

He’s spent the last few years repairing a 130-year-old rocking chair. Stortzum said all the work on the chair, made of solid oak, must be done by hand.

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Stortzum learned a little bit of woodworking in school but was mostly self-taught. Most of what he learned was on the job repairing a fishing boat in Alaska where he lived for 12 years.

He was hired as a custodian with the city of Salem and started working at the senior center in 1992.

Marilyn Daily-Blair, manager of Center 50+, said Stortzum always considers how things will impact other people and plans his decisions around it.

When Stortzum retired from the city, the senior center had a hard time finding his replacement, so he volunteered to do his old job while they looked.

“He volunteered to do that so our services here wouldn’t be disrupted and that was huge,” she said.

Stortzum’s advice on retirement: “Enjoy your first year of retirement, because the second year is crap.”

In spring, Stortzum was given a volunteer award at Center 50+. He was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He had to dial back his volunteering in the intervening months.

Four months later, when Stortzum won a volunteer award through the city, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Stortzum said people have stepped in during his absence to help supervise the woodshop.

But he added, “My years of volunteering ain’t done yet.”

Stortzum is originally from the Eugene area, and likes to work on wooden Daffy Ducks wearing University of Oregon jerseys. He’s taught workshops on making them as well as wooden beavers for Oregon State University.

A Daffy Duck wearing a University of Oregon jersey hangs on the wall in the Center 50+ woodshop. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

He said he makes a lot of oddball stuff, like cornhole boards.

In front of his house, he started putting wooden buzzards with oversized heads in a tree.

“And now I’ve got four or five in the tree and everybody in the neighborhood thinks it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen,” Stortzum said.

Daily-Blair said Stortzum is a friend to many who doesn’t overthink things.

“What you see is what you get and that is very inviting to people,” she said.

On one of Stortzum’s weekly walks at the Willamette Town Center, a woman asked him if he could fix her dishwasher after a repairman told her there was nothing wrong with it.

Stortzum was able to figure out it needed new wheels. The woman bought the wheels and Stortzum popped them on for her.

“It’s nice to have somebody out there that’s willing to help you,” Stortzum said. “That’s me.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.