At a time in life when most people have begun to slow down, retired teacher Alma Gates seems to be just getting started.
Having spent both her personal and professional life cooking, sewing and homemaking, it's ironic those pursuits would keep her even busier in retirement.
She quietly identifies herself as membership chair for the Southern Oregon Chapter of the American Sewing Guild, but those who know her identify her as "the glue." In Gold Hill, where she taught middle school for just under three decades, she's an icon who ensured generations of local children learned to cook and sew.
Retired since 1999, the spry 72-year-old still spends her time focusing on cooking and sewing — things moms and grandmothers used to do for their families — for community members in need. Gates and the Sewing Guild's 80 active members spend a full 12 months every year working on charity sewing projects.
Since 2006, they've donated hundreds of quilts to local veterans, along with household items such as lap ropes, bibs and armchair organizers to seniors and the disabled. The group's cinch sacks, packed with necessities such as shampoo and toothpaste for homeless teens, go to Medford's Maslow Project.
"It's not just me," Gates says. "We all put in a lot of hours. These women do a great job, and they put in a lot of hours all year."
Fellow guild member Phyllis Sherburne of Medford is quick to give Gates a lot of the credit.
"If we didn't have Alma, this whole chapter would just fall apart," Sherburne says. "She's the glue that keeps this whole thing together."
As a testament to Gates' devotion, Sherburne points to a recent "donation day," when the group had planned to deliver their handmade wares to local charities. Gates tackled an emergency that day and still arrived on time to ensure items were delivered as scheduled.
In addition to her sewing, Gates helps with Hanby Middle School's Kookie Kollege, which she helped former Hanby teacher Margaret Dials start in 2009, offering students a day of holiday baking.
"She's taught every kid in Gold Hill how to cook and sew, and I know that she's meant a lot to every student who came through here, even if kids had real-life skills taught to them at home, too," notes Dials.
"I remember my own daughter, who is now 34, telling me I did something the wrong way because I didn't do it the way Mrs. Gates taught them to do it. And she was probably right."
Gates helped line up an old fleet of sewing machines no longer used at Hanby to teach community members at Fasturn Junction in Medford, where the guild meets.
"We've said we'll give them back if they ever bring back the program, but I don't see it happening in my lifetime," Gates says. "It's sad we have a lot of stuff going on about kids being obese and having diabetes and not understanding nutrition or cooking or how to sew. With so many cuts in schools, kids aren't going to learn the skills they need to have when they get older."
For her part, Gates doesn't see any reason to stop doing what she's always done: teaching and sharing the skills she learned in her own youth.
"I try to encourage anybody I can," Gates says. "When I was teaching, I always wondered, 'What am I going to do when I retire?' I figured out that if I do charity sewing and can give it to somebody, it can really help people out."
Dials says Gates is a testament to staying young.
"I've known her all these years, and she has always been such a busy lady and has not changed a bit," Dials says. "She's still youthful and energetic. I like to think maybe that's what keeps you young."
For information about participating in Sewing Guild activities, or to donate fabrics or supplies to the group, call Fasturn Junction at 541-772-8430.