Prime Over 50
Fred Crowell, 76
Every winning coach has a game plan and a playbook. Fred Crowell was the head basketball coach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, then as the first coach for Athletes in Action, a program facing top 20 NCAA teams, like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas State, night after night, and since 1971, as the founder of Northwest Basketball Camp, Fred Crowell has amassed a winning record. Not only against opponents, but in mentoring players to perform to the highest expectations on and as well as off the court.
NBC has become Nothing Beats Commitment Camps, focused on helping campers find the courage to be committed to a life of excellence—a life that isn’t about perfection or external success as much as it is about living life with gratitude, mental toughness, strength of character and the will to overcome any difficulty with dignity and confidence.
Crowell has written a manual on coaching basketball, given motivational talks to teams, and even invented a special ball to help players improve their shot. Building on the fundamentals of ball handling, shooting form and defense, Crowell holds a core belief in strengthening the unique abilities and personal value of the individual, and the need to be practical with God through a life of faith.
“We build on three things: the kids need to be loved, they need to belong and they need to have success,” Crowell says. “In their soul is an amazing spirit of survival that God put in all of us.”
“Basketball has lost the meaning of what Dr. James Naismith started the sport for, which was as a game to build character,” Crowell says.
“With children, whether they want to be an artist or a basketball player,” he says. “Our job is to help them go as far as they can.”
Crowell, who played basketball and baseball at the University of Idaho, where he earned an undergraduate and master’s degree, also ran a personal counseling service early in his career.
He’s still called upon to speak to teens and parents on life altering issues such as bullying and suicide. When a village in Alaska was impacted by youth suicide, rather than a psychologist or psychiatrist, they brought in Coach Crowell, whose message of personal commitment and hope, backed by basketball, is immediately relatable.
“In basketball we take care of the ball because we don’t want turnovers. In life, the most important thing is to guard is the heart—we’ve only got one of those,” Crowell says. “Something we teach 24/7 is to learn from the past and live right here, right now.
“To live well, for me, to seize this very day—the first challenge is to win the moment,” Crowell writes in Words of Hope, his daily blog of inspirational reflections, “At this moment, I choose gratitude, thankfulness, joy, peace, patience and love.”
Crowell, married for 55 years to his bride Suzie, whom he credits for opening his eyes to power and grace of the Lord, practices what preaches. Nine years ago, he was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer, and doctors gave him three years to live. Standing strong and tall, and shooting the ball well from the outside arch, he’s still eager, willing and to play the game.
“Cancer can take my body but it can’t take my mind,” Crowell says. “I’m living large. God is my coach and I know how to win.”
Barb Silvey, 61
Looking back on our school days, we all had a favorite teacher. For many kids, Barb Silvey will be remembered as the teacher who helped them learn a difficult subject or pass a challenging test, and as a mentor who encouraged and inspired them to step beyond their surroundings and be what they knew deep down they could be.
For much of 35 years, Silvey worked as an intervention specialist at Rogers High School. The students in her classes were teenagers on the edge, ones who struggled in regular classroom settings, many facing additional challenges in the outside world.
Silvey understood where her students come from. She grew up in the same economically depressed Hillyard neighborhood and encountered her share of family strife, living with a severely alcoholic mother. Despite the hardships, Silvey graduated head of her class at Rogers, where she also excelled at volleyball, gymnastics and tennis, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Washington State University with minors in math and health, and a master’s in adaptive physical ed.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was about five or six years old. I saw my teachers as the people who could show me the way out,” Silvey says. “We were always in poverty, moving from house to apartment or house to apartment and from school to school to school. The fact that I graduated valedictorian was pretty awesome.”
You might call Silvey an Irrationally Helpful Kid Whisperer, fittingly the name of a book she’s writing about her experiences in education.
Not only did Silvey help students earn credits needed for graduation — she truly was a light in the storm whether the need was an encouraging hug, a friendly “push” in the right direction or the daily necessities of life, such as toiletries, shoes and school supplies, that others take for granted. Throughout the years, she even opened her own home to some students as a Foster Care provider.
“You don’t have to do something huge to help change a kid’s life — it’s about giving unconditional acceptance,” Silvey says.
At home, Silvey proudly displays plaques bestowed her as Teacher of the Year, a Spirit Award from her graduating class, and the Jim Chase Memorial Award as nominated by her students. What matters most to her, though, are the thank you cards and posters given to her by her students.
The ultimate reward, Silvey says, is seeing the kids step beyond their troubles and achieve success in life and careers. One girl, who was so traumatized by school that she wouldn’t write in a regular notebook, and instead wrote an entire essay on a roll of toilet paper, became a shipping boat captain. There’s a lawyer, a professional skateboarder and a military officer. Yet another student, who was rescued from the playground basketball court, now owns a successful fitness gym.
“It makes me really proud to see them overcome what’s been done to them,” Silvey says. “It’s not something they chose, it’s something that happened to them.”
“I didn’t set out to be inspirational, Silvey adds. “I just know the thing that saved me was hope and knowing that I could solve whatever problem was thrown at me — I guess I want that for everyone else as well.”
Chris Brown, 63
Chris Brown has resided in the Spokane area nearly 30 years—and for more than a decade Brown and his family lived in a home near Deer Park that he designed and built with his own two hands.
Construction wasn’t a skill on Brown’s resume that includes four decades working in food production. He worked in food packaging for Hormel and James River, and quality control at Johanna Beverage Co.
“It certainly was a challenge because this was pre-internet, so you couldn’t just look up how to do something,” Brown says. “I wish I’d had the internet then because I would have done several things differently.”
Brown was in his mid-30s when he started his building project. The beautiful 6,000 square-feet home, with four bedrooms and five bathrooms, took five years to complete.
“At that age you had a lot of gumption, but maybe not enough smarts or money,” Brown says. “Some days are extremely frustrating—I remember a few when I just about cried, and then other days are really rewarding when you get X, Y and Z done.”
The most challenging part was connecting the labyrinth of plumbing. Unfortunately, that’s not information gleaned from a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a minor in psychology. “Water doesn’t always go downhill,” Brown says. “It was a learning curve for sure.”
Luckily, Brown ran into Joe O’Brien, a Deer Park resident, who was an encyclopedia of knowledge. “I owe him a huge debt because when I got in trouble he really helped,” Brown says.
The house wasn’t Brown’s last project. Since retirement at 62, a typical day usually looks something like: one end of town to repair a car for a friend, the other end of town to help a family member move, a third place somewhere in town to volunteer, and then wrapping it up with repairing electrical work for an elderly neighbor. He also takes people from here to there as an Uber driver.
“I really enjoy the Uber because I meet a lot of interesting people and get into intriguing conversations,” Brown says. “It keeps you mentally young to hear different perspectives that make you make you think.”
Brown comes from a very humble upbringing and credits many with helping him along the way. Therefore, being of service to others, to him, is more than just a way to stay busy. “I have some skills, so I share them,” he says. “I hope those people pay it forward.
“‘Friend’ is a word thrown around easily these days, considering social media, but he is someone who has more real and cherished friends than anyone I’ve met,” says daughter Adina Pankey for whom Brown is helping to remodel a rental house. “To him, a friend means someone you would do anything for, and that he has, and does, on a daily basis”
Bill Kortenbach, 58
A lifetime helping others acquire the habit of courage has taught Bill Kortenbach a simple truth: inside, we are all survivors.
Kortenbach is a martial artist with over 40 years of experience. He holds a 7th-Dan in Isshinryu Karate and has trained extensively in other disciplines including Arnis and Escrima, Aikido and Pentjak-silat. He has served as a board director for the Sexual Assault Center of Pierce County, Washington, and is the founder of Safety First Personal Protection Strategies, a nonprofit dedicated to the safety and empowerment of people of all ages through Survival Response Conditioning—the re-activation of dormant, subconscious survival skills through high pressure, scenario-based experiences.
Kortenbach wasn’t always a confident person. As a boy, he was so traumatized by an abusive father that he did not speak above a whisper until he was seven years old. To lessen his self-esteem even more, he was repeatedly hospitalized for bronchitis and pneumonia, and suffered a gamma-globulin deficiency and retarded bone growth.
Fast forward: Kortenbach was 13 and two bullies made him their target, beating on him daily during the school bus ride home. One day, Kortenbach’s younger sister was sitting directly behind the worst of his tormentors. As her brother endured shoves and punches, she became so enraged that she smashed the kid in the face, knocking him to the floor where she kicked the tar out of him.
Witnessing this event inspired Kortenbach to change his life. He enrolled in karate, through which he gained strength and confidence. Studying the relationship between conflict and fear became a lifelong pursuit.
“A person may be able to protect themselves, but the missing link is the ability to process fear the way nature intended,” Kortenbach says. “In our society, it is normal to live in fear, but it is not natural. The human mind does not want to conceive of worst-case scenarios and that can leave us vulnerable.”
Research convinced Kortenbach that successful people are stimulated by fear, and rather than denying and avoiding their feelings, they embrace and push through it. According to Kortenbach, Survival Response Conditioning can be especially effective for seniors, not because they may lack the ability to use their fine motor skills, but looking back, many realize that fear has held them back from achieving what they want in life. Women who have suffered physical and mental abuse also can see a powerful change.
From 2009 through 2015, Kortenbach hosted “The Street Wise Forum,” a weekly radio program covering all facets of personal safety. Ironically, even after teaching others about empowerment through fear, he succumbed to mic fright the first time he went on the air. “I was so humiliated,” he says, “but my decision was to dance to the music that I’d created and put my best foot forward.
“I still have plenty of fear and I’m glad I do,” Kortenbach says. “Life has shown me how fast a simple thing can blow up into something that’s God awful and can change your life a second.
“What I say to people who have experienced some real hard knocks in life is that there is no circumstance that can’t be improved, there is no life that can’t be led to more fully, there is no problem that cannot be resolved,” Kortenbach says. “All it takes is to recognize fear and to have the willingness to move forward.”
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Spokane, WA 99201
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Loft at the Flour Mill
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