When Jesse Gibbs walks the hallways of Wildflower Lodge, she catches a visitor's eye.
It's in the way she carries herself. She walks straight and tall, with no stooping. She moves with purpose, head held high.
In this La Grande assisted living center, she looks as if she needs no assistance at all.
She's always on her way to somewhere: going for her daily, two- to four-mile walk around the building, or out to serve meals at the local senior center or spend an evening with friends or family.
You'd never guess she's 91, and blind from macular degeneration.
"They call me Go-Go, and that's because when someone says, Â‘Let's go,' I go," she said.
By her own account, Gibbs has had eye trouble most of her life. She said it started when she was in the third grade.
"In class, when I got up to read, I didn't see all of a big word. Then I discovered that if I turned my head slightly, I could see the whole thing," she said.
Even then, she was determined to live a healthy, active life. And that she did.
Gibbs was born in Cove, the daughter of Rance and Laura Stacey. She attended school at Union.
In 1931, she married Ike Gibbs, a logger who later became a wood superintendent for the Oregon Trail Lumber Co.
The couple had a daughter, Ina Lea, and two sons, Grant and Johnny.
After the children were grown, Jesse and Ike moved to Burns. She took nurse's training in Burns and in Boise. A long, rewarding nursing career followed.
"Helping people was always a big deal for me," she said.
She worked as a nurse in Burns and later, at Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande. She also cared for Ike after he broke his neck in a work-related traffic accident.
After Ike's death in 1971, she went to Portland and studied zone therapy, an ancient healing art related to acupressure.
"A friend of mine gave me a zone therapy treatment. I liked it so much I wanted to learn how to do it," she said.
She returned to La Grande and practiced her new skills. But her eyesight was deteriorating; there came a time when she had to quit.
"Zone therapy took a lot of reading and drawing. As my eyes gave way, I had to quit doing those things. I thought I'd better go play," she said.
In her retirement, square dancing and bowling became the center of her life. She continued doing them well into her 80s.
She bowled even after her world became one of light and darkness and vague shapes.
"I was 88 when they opened
The Rock bowling alley. I threw out the first ball," she said.
By that time, she had learned that blindness is a challenge to overcome, rather than the master of her fate.
A dozen years or so ago, she enrolled in a state-run class that taught blind people how to achieve and keep their independence.
"It was lessons to learn to live with what you have," she said. "I went in there really wanting to know."
She no longer remembers the name of the teacher, but she does recall he was an inspiration.
One of the first things she learned was that walking erect does more than help her look good; it also keeps her on course.
"The light can draw you to one side or the other, and it's worse if you walk with your head down," she said. "The teacher kept saying, Â‘Walk with your head up.' "
She learned also how to keep herself smartly groomed and smartly dressed. Today, she accepts little or no help in those matters.
For one thing, she picks out her own clothes every day. The trick, she said, is to store clothes in the right places, keep choices simple and develop a marking system.
She can identify black and white using her eyes; navy blue garments are marked with a single small gold pin, brown with two pins.
She has also learned to put on her own makeup, and how to take care of her hair.
It isn't difficult, she said, as long as things are kept in their right places.
"Once, someone put a can of Pledge where my hair spray should have been. That was a little messy," she said.
As she learned in class, there is some creative little trick that can be used for almost any task Â— even keeping track of money.
"I keep $20 bills flat, fold tens over once, and fives three times. And I never carry change. I keep it in a jar at home and when there's enough, I change it for flat money," she said.
She doesn't bowl anymore, but when she did, it was easy enough Â— and lots of fun.
"I used the ball return for a guide when I was approaching the lane," she said. "If I had to pick up a spare, someone would call out the pins by number and I'd go after them."
How good was she?
"I bowled better than some people who can see," she said with a laugh.
About six months ago, she sold her home and moved to Wildflower. It was a difficult but necessary thing to do, she said.
"It was just getting too dangerous for me to stay at home alone," she said. "Once, I set my sleeve on fire while I was cooking. And I was having trouble walking on the uneven ground outside the house," she said.
She came to Wildflower determined to live fully. With a little help from staff, friends and family, she continues to do just that.
She takes her long walks Â— without a cane Â— every day. She makes shopping trips and goes out to dinner. Deeply religious, she attends services at her own church and at Wildflower.
She helps out at the senior center across town, just as she has for many years.
In her neatly appointed room, she knits while listening to books-on-tape. She can thread a needle and sew.
She makes it a point to be active in the Wildflower community, taking part in every group activity.
"I stop and talk to people, but not in a complaining way," she said. "I try to make everyone feel good. I enjoy my time here."
Her advice to others suffering from vision problems?
"Stay active, don't dwell on the sad parts and keep trying to improve yourself," she said.
Oh, and one more thing.
"Never give up."
Story and photos by Bill Rautenstrauch