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How 105-year-old Delmar Hopkins became a Remington Park icon

During a Thanksgiving weekend when many Americans will kick back and enjoy time off, 105-year-old Delmar Hopkins will leave the retirement home where he lives in Norman, and drive — yes, drive — to Remington Park, where he works on the cleaning crew.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: November 29, 2013 at 11:00 am •  Published: November 29, 2013

Delmar Hopkins retired once.

He spent his days at the senior citizens' center, playing checkers and dancing and having a good time. But it wasn't long before he told his wife that he was going to have to quit the senior center.

“These people gonna make me old before my time,” he told her.

Mr. Delmar went back to work in 1976.

He's been working ever since, and he has no plans to stop.

He's 105 years old.

During a Thanksgiving weekend when many Americans will kick back and enjoy time off, Mr. Delmar will leave the retirement home where he lives in Norman, climb into his PT Cruiser with the custom red and silver paint job and drive — yes, drive — to Remington Park, where he works on the cleaning crew. The horses are racing, and that means he's working.

He doesn't work to pay his bills. Social Security and his children take care of that.

Still, he needs to work. He needs the exercise, the interaction, the camaraderie that comes with it.

“That's what keeps me going,” he said.

Along the way, Mr. Delmar has become an icon at Remington Park. Co-workers and patrons are amazed by his age, but when they meet him, they are endeared by his personality, his smile and his wit.

He is so beloved that when the racetrack ownership changed hands four years ago, one of the stipulations of the deal was that Mr. Delmar kept his job.

“Frankly, we don't apply the spurs much,” track president and general manager Scott Wells said. “We let him set his own pace, but he's diligent and he takes a lot of pride in his work ethic and his dependability.

“Just a pretty magical person.”

Sometimes, Mr. Delmar wonders why he keeps working, why he doesn't just retire like everyone else his age.

Then, he comes to his senses.

“I don't think about quitting,” he said. “I think about going.”

***

Delmar Hopkins was born on May 13, 1908, the same month of the first passenger airplane flight and the patent for wireless radio broadcasting. He was the youngest of nine children, and his family farmed in Honey Grove, Texas, a tiny town 20 miles south of the Red River between Paris and Bonham.

When Delmar was in fifth grade, he stopped going to school. There were more important things to do.

“I was always out pickin' cotton, choppin' cotton,” he said.

His parents decided to move to Detroit in 1920 to find work in the factories. The Great Depression was still almost a decade away, but those years after the end of World War I were tough, too.

Delmar and his family were on their way north when a massive rainstorm hit. They ended up having to hunker down for a few days in Chickasha. Remember, the interstate highway system was still more than 30 years from being developed. Delmar's mother really liked the town, so they decided to stay.

Delmar found all sorts of work. Washing dishes. Busing tables. He wasn't picky.

Even as he married and moved to other places — New Mexico, California, Colorado, then back to Oklahoma — he worked a variety of jobs. He built ships and planes during World War II. He painted cars.

But no matter where he was or what he was doing, he worked as hard as he could. That was a lesson he learned from his parents. On the farm, they were up before the sun and got home after dark. And in those days, electricity was so sparse and lights were so few that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face.

“We couldn't tell what color the house was, if it was even painted,” Mr. Delmar said. “Most of 'em wasn't painted no way.”

He laughed.

His eyes sparkled.

“We didn't think anything about it.”

All these years later, Mr. Delmar is still getting home from work after dark.

***

Mr. Delmar didn't think Remington Park would hire him.

He figured he was too old.

But at the encouragement of his third wife, Ardee — he divorced first wife, Odessa, after five or six years, then was married to Mazella for 47 years before she died of breast cancer — he decided to give it a try. The racetrack was hiring older folks, and he was up front about the fact that he was 80-plus.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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