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Catching up with columnist Chuck Avery

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Norma and Larry Meyer of New Castle, left, visit with Michelle and Chuck Avery before his Tuesday speaking engagement at Senior Living at Forest Ridge. Norma and Chuck used to teach together in the English department at Hagerstown High School.
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A room full of attentive listeners, including Michelle Avery, bottom right, listen to long-time newspaper columnist Chuck Avery speak Tuesday at a Senior Living at Forest Ridge brunch.

By DONNA CRONK - dcronk@thecouriertimes.com

Chuck Avery never minded the idea of growing older.

If you’re waiting for the punch line, there isn’t one.

“When I was younger, I thought older people seemed respected and settled,” he says, adding that they are “not trying to impress anyone. Just trying to relax. It turned out like I thought.”

Avery, 84, spoke during a Tuesday brunch at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle. His topic concerned thoughts on aging.

The Hagerstown resident and Connersville native is well known regionally for his regular humor column that still runs in The Courier-Times and Connersville News-Examiner along with two other papers. At one time during his nearly 30-year side career as a general-and-humor columnist, his work appeared in nine newspapers.

Avery said he almost never knows in advance what he will write about in any given column. He credits former Hagerstown Exponent and Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen with giving him his start. He has no plans to quit writing the columns. But as for speaking gigs, he doesn’t do so many anymore.

He said last year, he spoke in Richmond. The person who invited him mentioned a stipend and told him to keep the talk to 15-20 minutes. Avery asked if he could have 25 minutes, and the person said no, 15 would be better. Avery responded, “If you’d raise my stipend, I won’t show up and we’d both be happy.”

Avery says it’s a true story, the kind readers have come to expect from the retired 27-year speech, drama, and literature teacher at Hagerstown High School. Youngest son Ian now teaches writing in Ohio. Chuck and wife Michelle have four grown kids, 10 grandchildren and two greats.

The couple became interested in each other while doing a play in Angola many years ago. She taught school for 31 years in Richmond before retiring.

Michelle says in their family, her husband is known for his storytelling abilities. She says he has the same personality at home that comes across in his columns. But, he says he wasn’t known for his wit while growing up. 

Of his hundreds of columns, Avery says a personal favorite is about Christmas when he was a kid. A local organization sent the family some holiday gifts – and the Averys sent them back, requesting that the group give the presents to a family who needed them.

“We didn’t have anything but pride,” he recalls.

As a young man, he worked in Connersville factories where he found the jobs boring. Yet the experiences were significant because they motivated him to head to college and pursue something more interesting.

Along with his teaching career and sideline of column writing, producing books, and public radio commentaries, he and Michelle built two houses in rural Hagerstown. They still live in the second one, built a decade ago, which they designed and mostly built themselves. He still works on their property and cuts wood to heat the house.

These days his hobbies include learning to play classic guitar and improving his pool game. He works at both daily.

On Tuesday, Larry and Norma Meyer of New Castle were part of a packed house to hear Avery’s program. She worked at Hagerstown High School with Avery when he served as department head. She says he was witty back then.

Avery said once he finished talking in Richmond last year, the event host told the audience, “Next month, we’ll have a really good speaker.”

It’s all copy. And for Chuck Avery, it’s a good life.

Tips on aging well from Chuck Avery

During his Tuesday program, newspaper columnist Chuck Avery offered thoughts on how to avoid appearing old. He suggests that folks implement these tips as soon as they get their first AARP solicitation. He mentioned that for many at the luncheon, that invite came long ago. He shared:

1. Once you are invited to join AARP, start using rear-view mirrors when backing up. Receiving the invite means it won’t be long before the recipient can no longer use the arm-over-seat, turn-your-head-around-to-see method.

2. Begin parking in the same general area in big parking lots. Avoid trying to get into a parked car you haven’t owned for two years.

3. Commit to memorizing the make and model of your current car.

4. Make lists of every act you intend to do wherever you’re going. Avery deadpanned that he doesn’t get to a big city such as New Castle often but he had a list with two things on it for Tuesday. The list included go speak at Forest Ridge, then go to Kroger for a big ham.

5. Avoid abbreviations on your list.

6. Learn to address everyone as “neighbor.” That way you no longer have to memorize names.