FAIRFIELD — An attitude of gratitude is the daily motto for Gretchen Shilts.
The 78-year-old dynamo, akin to the Energizer bunny, is still leaving her mark on Fairfield. She’s lived here almost 50 years.
She spent eight years on the local school board and worked at the old Fairfield Clinic, which stood at the corner of Empire and Texas streets.
Shilts has also been active in hospice and currently works as a chaplain with NorthBay Bridges, a palliative care service of NorthBay Healthcare.
She still finds time for a weekly prayer group she started with her late husband, Joe Shilts, piano lessons, working as a volunteer for Amtrak and exploring a new interest, cosmology.
As a chaplain, Shilts also conducts a nondenominational worship service at Paradise Valley Estates. As a minister in the Universal Life church, she’s presided over funerals and weddings.
Genealogy also finds time in her busy schedule. She recently inherited letters exchanged between her paternal grandparents.
Life could have been much different. Shilts spent two years in a convent.
“I kept getting sick,” she said of her reason for departing.
She had written then pal Joe Shilts the equivalent of a “Dear John” letter when she entered the convent. She wasn’t so sure he would talk to her after she left the convent. A year later, they were married. Then, it was off to California, with the family arriving in Fairfield in December 1966.
Once a quarter, Shilts boards the California Zephyr in Sacramento as the train heads to Reno. Along the way, she points out the historical places. She spends the night in Reno, gets up the next day and does the same for those traveling westbound on the Zephyr.
“The road to Sacramento is very familiar,” she said, as she also must work eight hours a month at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.
“It’s a wonderful contrast to the chaplaincy work.”
A newspaper story about a railroad museum docent fascinated Shilts. She wanted to volunteer. As a youth, she remembered traveling in a sleeping car between Boston and Pittsburgh.
Shilts is currently going through the 12 boxes of letters exchanged by her grandparents.
“I think I need another lifetime for this,” she said.
Her palliative care work is a source of pride and joy, she said. It involves a lot of listening as well as building a trust level, she said.
She has no intention of giving anything up.
“I’m fortunate to have good health,” Shilts said.
The good health is the result of her positive outlook on life, she said.
“A spirit of gratitude is so important,” she said. “You shouldn’t let a day go by without saying thank you.”
Forgiveness and the ability to say “I love you” are also important, Shilts said.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.