Born into the no-nonsense generation, Clear Creek Dentistry patient Robert Carter of Port Orchard has seen his share of wonderful and difficult times. He has been around longer than TV, chocolate chip cookies and ballpoint pens, yet shows few of the typical signs of aging.
High Cholesterol? Nope. Diabetes? Nada. Heart Disease? Nothing. Cancer? Negative. Tooth loss or decay? Zero. Prescription drugs? Little to none…at age 91!
What’s his secret? Spend a few minutes with Bob and see the product of a simple recipe – dedication to family mixed with steady routines and hard work.
Born at home on a 1924 Wisconsin dairy farm, Bob’s role in the family was quickly defined for him. His father was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis and, by the height of the Great Depression, all the responsibilities of the farm fell on him.
“He was not able to go to college like his older siblings, nor able to go to war with all his friends; he was always working,” explained his daughter, Karen Carter, also a Clear Creek patient. “This set the stage for a life of figuring out how to do whatever needed to be done and him having a strong sense of responsibility to provide.”
With only young Bob and his mother able to labor, under his father’s direction, it became apparent the Carters needed an “easier” way to earn a living, so they converted the dairy farm into a chicken hatchery – selling chicks to people who wanted to produce eggs to sell. “Initially the Carter Hatchery was in the cow barn, but over time we tore down the barn and built two buildings that housed 2,000 chickens,” Bob said. “When incubating eggs they have to be turned daily, something the hen usually does. We did it manually back then in the early days of commercial hatcheries.”
In 1942, everything changed for Bob when he met his lifelong sweetheart at a dance. Ardath Ehlert was only 14 years old at the time. “She was something else! I knew she was the one for me that first night,” Bob said. “We began dating and I was really trying to make a lasting impression, so I even picked her up for some dates by landing a small plane in the field behind her house.”
After graduating from high school, Ardath went off to college in Milwaukee and Bob’s parents gifted him the farm when they moved to Iowa to be closer to extended family. Bob proposed to Ardath soon after that and, following five long years of courtship, the pair wed in 1947 and began working together at the hatchery.
“We were a team from the beginning,” Bob said. “We relocated to Washington in 1950 for a work opportunity at a larger chicken ranch, 200,000 laying hens, which is where I developed the Spokane Cage.” Bob’s design was copied all over the Northwest and was one of the first automated chicken houses. This innovation helped him realize his natural bent and led him into a career in commercial construction.
By the early 1970s, Bob co-purchased Garco Construction in Spokane, where the Carters lived for 49 years and raised their four children. Ardath passed away in 2014.
“After my parents moved in with me, I realized that they spent virtually all of their time together, either in bed or on a couch touching,” Karen said. “Dad either had his arm around her shoulders or they were holding hands. It was so precious for me to see how connected they were and that kind of love to the end.”
Bob’s list of lifetime achievements are impressive, including: more than 65 years of active participation in the Masonic Order, with service as Potentate of the El Katif Shrine; appointments by two Washington State governors to the Boundary Review Board; membership on the Comstock Foundation; and winning dozens of rifle-shooting competitions. However, he feels his biggest accomplishment was raising successful children who, in turn, are now raising another two generations of loved, well-parented children with a high probability of success.
“It was always about family for Dad. He was so capable and held himself and us to high expectations. Everything he did, I know now, was for us to have the opportunity for a better life than he did as a child,” Karen said. “We worked hard together doing chores and were encouraged to stay active. Tooth brushing before bed was a nightly routine and we always had our annual dental check-ups, even when there wasn’t enough money to go around. Dad and Mom taught us to be resourceful with what we had and preventatively take care of ourselves.”
Ahead of his time for all the current emphasis put on clean, fit living, Bob has always treated his health as one of his assets. “The ability to keep our teeth healthy throughout our life, in large part, depends on the value we place on our teeth,” said Dr. Steve Haws, Bob’s dentist since 2012. “If a patient is aware of the value their teeth play into their overall health, then there is a high chance they will do the small day-to-day tasks that will prevent decay and gum disease. The formula for success with our teeth is brushing, flossing, eating good foods and visiting the dentist regularly. Bob is a great example of this.”
Today, as Bob lives in Karen’s home and she helps see to his care, his sound routines naturally carry on. “It is such a huge blessing for me to have had my parents live with me at the end of their lives. Dad is usually up before me, gets his coffee and starts reading two different newspapers. He loves staying current and we discuss different issues together over breakfast,” Karen said. “I make sure he has fresh, homemade meals, like Mom always did for us, and we talk and share stories throughout the day. His habits of disciplined, regular care have not diminished. He exercises twice daily for 30 minutes on his cross-trainer, brushes his teeth faithfully with a Sonicare, and every night we share a hug. His doctors say he still has a lot of life ahead of him, with perhaps another decade to go! I think that having someone to love and someone to love him has a lot to do with it.”
Next month, Bob and Karen will visit the Iowa farm his father and grandfather were born and reared on, along with remaining family members in the area. “It’s going to be special,” Bob said. “I’ve researched my family history as far back as 1637 and I learn something new every time I visit relatives.”
So what’s the secret to a long, healthy and happy life? It’s simple, says this tried and true source. “Find an exceptional partner, take care of each other and yourself, enjoy reflecting on the past while continuing to look forward. Also, save more money than you think you’ll need, because you just might live a lot longer than you expect,” he chuckled at his own experience.