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.”
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.
“Fine,” he remembers them saying, “we take old people.”
Mr. Delmar quickly became a fixture at the track.
Armed with his black plastic broom and dustpan, he makes a slow but steady loop around the clubhouse level. Wearing his track-issue red shirt, his gold name tag with “Delmar” in black ink and his signature suspenders — tonight, it's a pair of jazz-themed ones — he is always on the lookout for discarded tickets or vouchers.
Walk awhile with Mr. Delmar, and you realize he notices clutter that most of us miss.
You also realize why he's a track icon.
“How you doin'?” he says with a smile to a woman tending the snack bar.
He nods at a man sitting in front of TVs simulcasting races.
“G'evening,” he says.
He stops and chats for a minute with a table of regulars.
He has a smile or a word for everyone whose path he crosses. He remembers names. He asks about family. This is what he loves about his job.
“The best thing about it is meetin' people,” he says, then adds, “and keepin' the floor clean. I got a record of havin' the cleanest floor in the buildin'.”
He cocks his head a bit.
“You know,” he says, those eyes sparkling again, “people tips me good.”
A track patron who'd heard about the 105-year-old cleaning man and wanted to meet him recently approached Mr. Delmar.
The two men talked for a few minutes.
“You don't look like you're 105,” the man finally said. “You don't move like that. You don't talk like that.”
“What's an old person supposed to talk like?” Mr. Delmar said.
He knows that most people have never met someone as old as him. Heck, folks who get to be his age are usually in a nursing home, bedridden and sad.
Not Mr. Delmar.
Oh, he has arthritis in his hands and gets stiff if he sits too long. That's why he doesn't sit very long.
Widowed a year ago when Ardee died, he still does just about everything for himself. He cooks his meals. He cleans his place. He passes time listening to music — “I've got boom boxes in every room,” says a man who was born 70 years before CDs were invented — or drawing. He even sews, darning and repairing his clothes.
“There ain't a needle out there I can't thread,” he tells people. “All I need is a pair of scissors and some thread.”
“Scissors?” they'll say. “What's that got to do with it?”
“It's the way you cut the thread. Wet it. Twist. Wet again.”
Folks at Remington Park marvel at Mr. Delmar every day. Ray Thomas, who worked as his supervisor until recently, checks on him two or three times a night and tries to make it to the club level to help clean the box seating area at the end of the night. There are always three or four big bags of trash that have to be carted up the steps.
Lots of times Mr. Delmar has everything finished before Thomas can get there.
“He's an amazing worker,” said James Purcell, now Mr. Delmar's supervisor. “He's doing this menial stuff, but he does it so well that it's like, ‘Wow, what can this guy not do?'”
Nothing on two legs is more beloved at Remington Park than Mr. Delmar.
A year or so ago, he got lightheaded and fell as he was getting ready to leave for the night. Word went out on the walkie-talkies, and people from all around the track came running.
Any time Mr. Delmar is going to be gone for a day or two, an email goes out letting all the supervisors know.
Otherwise, people will worry.
“This guy just radiates goodness,” track president Wells said. “You know, he's got one of those souls.
“He's got this light in his eyes.”
Mr. Delmar insists there is no secret to his longevity, nothing more than being happy. That's his philosophy on life — be happy — and for him, he's happiest when he's around people, when he's talking and laughing and working.
“I'm not no millionaire,” he said, “but I've got plenty.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.