‘Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.’ – Satchel Paige.
There’s always one in every group. And of the groups he’s in, Pete Silldorff is always that one.
Silldorf continues to lead a busy life. It’s an active lifestyle that’s been more engrained in his soul and the fabric of his being than any sort of conscious decision on his part.
But Silldorf doesn’t simply ‘keep busy’. His seemingly boundless energy is directed at making a difference and creating a world around him that is a much better place.
At 83, Silldorff is active for any age – an avid bicyclist, a hard worker at nearby Union Canal Tunnel Park and a volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America. The North Lebanon township resident continues to lead his life at one speed, full steam ahead.
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Silldorff, when it was suggested that his life to this point has been full and rich. “It’s interesting where life takes you. I always think of it as a cue ball on a pool table, bouncing off the rails.
“I’ve had a lot of odd jobs,” added Silldorff. “Whatever grabbed my attention. But it had to benefit something.”
Silldorff has been retired for a number of years now, from a career that expressed his varying interests. And while his mind remains sharp, he remembers more from the distant past than what went on yesterday. His memory may be selective, hindered only by the sheer number of his experiences.
Intelligent, well-spoken, and polite, Silldorff the person is the perfect combination of old-school and progressive. He is just one interesting dude.
“I think it’s all in your genes,” said Silldorff of his Danish heritage. “You’re just fortunate. I get outside a lot. I think you should be fit. But bicycling is my go-to exercise.
“You remember all the adults who did things to benefit you,” added Silldorff. “You have to give back. You think of all the adults before you who have done things to make your life better.”
Perhaps more than anything, Silldorff is a local guy. His father immigrated to Lebanon to work in a local steel mill.
Silldorff graduated from Lebanon High School in the mid 1950s, and from Lebanon Valley College in the early 1960s. In between, there were stints in the United States Navy and a Pennsylvania state school, and unsuccessful attempts at becoming a pilot and an art teacher.
“I’m a local yocal. I really am,” said Silldorff, who identifies himself spiritually as ‘Unitarian Universalist’. “I’ve always been artistic in a way. I was just a happy guy. When I was younger, my head was going all over the place, and one day I wondered ‘Why do I want to be an art teacher?’ I was actually a shy kid growing up. I think (boy) scouts helped pull me out of that.
“Maybe I should’ve focused and gotten my act together earlier, and focused on my strengths better,” Silldorff continued. “I probably should’ve been a college professor. I can teach. I think I could’ve been a very good educator.”
Instead, Silldorff took a civil service exam and went to work as a systems analyst in the Pennsylvania governor’s office of administrative bureau of system analysis. Later, he took a job in the graphic arts industry at Lebanon Valley Offset in Annville, in sales and production management.
When he retired in the late 1980s, Silldorff purchased a master picture frame shop and worked that for a number of years. Yet one is left with the distinct impression that he has worked just as hard since his retirement, as he did when he was a member of the work force.
“I am at an age where I should be slowing down a little bit,” said Silldorff. “But I’ve seen my fellow senior citizens quitting because it hurts. It’s like, ‘I’m not doing it any more.’ When I get up in the morning, generally I feel good.
“I’m not stopping,” Silldorff added. “If I stop, I’m afraid what will happen. I suffer from obstinance, like most people my age. I’m becoming used to the idea that there’s a problem with ignoring medical situations. I guess I’m obstinant enough to think I’m going to live forever. I like doing the things I do. But I’m no super man.”
Silldorff’s heart for service has manifested itself in the outdoors, especially through his involvement with the development of Union Canal Tunnel Park and the Boy Scouts of America.
A Boy Scout himself during his teen years, Silldorff has served the organization in a number of roles throughout the decades, from den leader to scoutmaster, from mentor and advocate to organizer. Through a hands-on approach, he has been instrumental in developing a number of scout programs at Camp Bashore, outside of Jonestown, not the least of which is the reservation’s trail system.
Silldorff is also a charter member of the Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park and a former member of the Lebanon County Historical Society’s board of directors. Over the years, he has served or volunteered with the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts, QUEST Inc., the Lebanon County Area Agency on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, the Lebanon Valley Conservancy and Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails, just to name a few.
“I’d rather be outdoors,” said Silldorff. “It gets in your blood. At a young age, I really enjoyed it. With some of these things, if you don’t stay on top of them, ten years later you’re right back where you started from.
“I guess my parents got me outdoors,” added Silldorff. “All of my dad’s buddies were hunters and fishermen. My mom was a counselor at a YMCA camp. We would take camping trips.”
It could be that Silldorff’s boundless energy has fostered a restless spirit. In some ways, his work will never be done.
“You’re wondering why I’m being so busy,” said Silldorff. “I get carried away with things. I’ve always just been anxious to try things. Ideas just pop into my head. Things happen, and I tell myself they were meant to be. I can’t just sit still. I like to be busy, and I get bored easily.
“Yeah, sure I have regrets,” concluded Silldorff. “One is that I didn’t stay in better shape. And I would’ve liked to have hiked the Appalachian Trail. But I never did.”
Jack of all trades, master of none.
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