LEMOORE — Dr. Ernie Smith’s New Year’s resolution is staying healthy and fit. And it’s his resolution for all of Lemoore’s senior citizens, as well.

“I wish I could get every senior to come down to the rec center and do something,” Smith says. “Just to do something for themselves, like walking or like taking a one- or two-pound weight and fleshing it 10 times or pushing it above their head and to help them understand how important that is to their mental and physical health. I haven’t given up on it yet. That’s my goal.”

Smith started the Witness for Fitness program about six years ago to give Lemoore’s seniors an organized activity outlet. He also instructs the free class every Tuesday and Thursday morning.  

This is just one of the reasons that Smith will be honored with the 2018 Citizen of the Year award at the 60th annual Lemoore Chamber of Commerce Installation and Awards Banquet next week.

“We’ve heard a lot of great things about from the people who’ve taken his classes. So, that’s where his award comes from – his continued and consistent volunteering,” said Lemoore Chamber of Commerce CEO Amy Ward.

When Ward and other members of the chamber surprised Smith after one of the classes to announce his award, Smith could hardly believe it.  

“At first, I didn’t have a reaction. I was just like, ‘are you serious?’ They told me they were and I was so excited, I just let out a big yell,” Smith says. “I was so elated and surprised, but once the realness of it sank in, I was humbled. I thought, ‘what a tribute.’ The rest of the day I was walking on air, I was high.”

And while Smith is excited for the banquet ceremony, he does see one downside.

“The only thing is — when I’m excited, I eat a lot,” he laughs.                 

Smith grew up active, having participated in track and field and football, earning a spot in the State of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements at Oregon State University.

When he retired as West Valley College’s emeritus vice president of student services, he sought a way to spend some of his time when he got the idea to start the Parks & Rec program and teach seniors how to do low-impact workouts and give them a place to walk, exercising while socializing.

“The idea is to get our seniors up and moving…rather than being sedentary. And we’re doing that,” he says.

The first classes had four or five people in them, a meager start for the program that now sees around 70 people each week. The oldest participant is 96.

A few people in the class now have been coming since the beginning.

“I didn’t know any of them when we started and they didn’t know me, but with that many of us together so long, we’ve become like a family. We’re all trying to stay healthy together and we’re helping each other do that,” he says. 

Smith says he sees progress in those who have joined the class. Quality of life has enhanced for many of them, as well as strength, agility. Many have been able to better manage their blood pressure, diabetes and other health challenges since joining.

It’s often hard for people to even begin thinking and acting in a more healthy way because they simply don’t know where to start. And that’s where Smith shines.

With a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and a master’s degree in psychology and counseling, Smith is qualified to help the class with the physical as well as mental.

“A lot of the time, people overthink things and think they can’t do something. And if you think that, you won’t even try,” he says. “All of us are confronted with that sometimes.”

The free class is 8:30-9:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at the Lemoore Parks and Recreation Department, 721 E. Cinnamon Drive. For more information, call 924-6767.

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