Gary Clem never expected to have to spend some extended time in a senior care facility before he retired, but then some serious back injuries changed everything.
Born in 1958 and raised in Elkmont, Gary got his degree in Electronics from Calhoun. The most satisfying part of his career was to be a part of the team that tested the guidance system of the Patriot missiles. He also owned a TV repair shop prior to his injury.
A fall off of a truck resulted in his spine not just being broken, but crushed, and when he arrived at Athens Rehab and Senior Care in September of 2012, he couldn’t stand or walk at all. Bit by bit, that is changing, thanks to the excellent care he is receiving. He had crushed three vertebrae and two discs, and has had a total of 12 surgeries on his spine.
All of this took an enormous toll on him emotionally, and at first, by his own admission, he “did his best to get kicked out.” Fiercely independent, he was not having an easy time with following rules or being told he had to do a certain thing at a certain time. “I felt like I had been put in jail, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d go smoke in my room, just to get in trouble,” he told me with a chuckle. “No matter what I did, they were good to me. Finally I figured out that they were only trying to help me, and I needed to do it their way,” he added. Since then, he has gotten to where “he loves being here,” and is understandably looking forward to the day when he can go back to his home and live on his own again.
Another interesting fact about Gary is that while he was going to Calhoun in the ‘70s, he worked as an orderly at the facility, and knows every square inch of the place. “I loved it so much, that for awhile I thought seriously about getting a degree in nursing,” he told me.
Now that he is a resident, he zooms around the facility on his red scooter chair, knows everyone, and even managed, as a gentleman, to open my door for me after we took his picture out on the patio. He has quite a sense of humor, and says he loves “cutting up with Keisha and Michelle,” who, along with Misty Gilbert, work in the Activities Department at Athens Rehab.
He has three kids, three biological grandkids, and some step grandkids, and he wants to get back to being Dad and Grandpa full time. He is also hoping to return to the workforce, and wants to do something with computers, perhaps doing repairs with his son.
The Spotlight series tries to find out some “faves” about each resident, and here are Gary’s:
Food: Steak, cooked medium rare
Movie: Blazing Saddles
President: Ronald Reagan
Book: The Bible Songs: Amazing Grace, He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today, by George Jones, and his all time favorite song is Family Tradition, by Hank Williams, Jr.
Advice to young people: “Weigh all your decisions, because you’re going to have to live with them, or die with them…” He also added, “You know, as I got older, my parents got smarter.” Amen to that, bro, and, I might add, 60 is the new 30!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner