Frank Bridwell of Lake Oswego is one of the best good old
boys around.He has lived in the Great Northwest for many years now, but he was born and bred in Tennessee. In his accent you get a strong trace of the Great Smoky Mountains, which comes in handy when Bridwell sits down at the Adult Community Center to tell yarns and philosophize about his long and good life. He makes you want to be a good old boy, too.
“I’m like the Maytag Repair Man now,” Frank said. “I can do whatever the hell I want to do! I can read a book, be a couch potato, anything. As time goes on you can lose friends and your life can totally change. But you can do whatever you want.”
Certainly, the ability to relax is among Frank’s many virtues. But he is always ready to uncurl from the couch and make a contribution to mankind, especially to the Meals on Wheels program of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center. His contributions to the program that feeds 400 people a week (please check) are a key to its success. His work on MOW began 12 years ago, after he retired to Lake Oswego, and it all started as sort of an after-thought.
“I had done some Meals on Wheels volunteering in Richmond (Virginia), then I never thought about it again,” Frank said. “When I got here I started thinking about ways I could give back. Brenda Grubbs asked me to join the Meals on Wheels board.”
That sounded like a good idea to Bridwell, and after a long, successful career with International Harvester and Mercedes Benz he was well equipped to think like an executive. He soon found ways to make Meals on Wheels even better.
“I thought, ‘How do we make people more aware of Meals On Wheels in Lake Oswego?’ “ Frank said. “A lot of people didn’t know about it and I started promoting it.”
Bridwell found that serving on the board of the Lake Oswego Country Club was a great platform to push the meals program. He has been doing that now for five years.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth,” Frank said. “In the past three or four years we’ve seen the program cover the city expenses and we’ve also got a pretty good cushion. I feel good about what we’ve done here.”
As for the secret of his success, he said, “My strong point is I can get through to people.”
When you look at Frank Bridwell’s story you must conclude that he has lived a wonderful life, even though he had to do an awful lot of traveling to do it. It all started in Kingsport, Tennessee, a town of 20,000 people, where his dad operated a successful business selling cattle and hogs. It was a very nice small town and a great place to grow up, and making it even better was that Frank was a high school basketball star, with his team making the state tournament three straight years. Even though his dad had some tough luck, with his slaughterhouse twice burning down, he was prosperous enough to buy his son a baby blue Ford convertible and take the family on vacations to Florida
After that he had a wonderful time at East Tennessee State University, although he did not hit the books too hard. “I just partied,” Frank admitted.
While not excelling academically, Frank was excelling romantically, because he met his future wife Jerry. She has proven to be a wonderful life partner, and they have been married for 53 years.Eventually, real life arrived, and Bridwell proceeded to get on with things quite well. He started out with International Harvester in Kingsport and soon began his professional pattern of moving around the country, which he did in sort of a zig-zag fashion across the nation. From his home state he moved to Virginia and later to Ohio. Somehow his family managed to thrive everywhere.
“When a company wanted you to move, you moved,” Frank said.The Beach Boys song “I Get Around” summed up Bridwell’s life, especially after he took a position with Mercedes Benz.“I was in Germany, back East, all over the U.S., and all the rest of the world,” Frank said. “I saw places that I never would have envisioned seeing. I got a million miles on my Delta and Marriott points. I got tired of traveling. It was beating me to death. My ankles were always swelling up.”
In 1983 the Bridwells had to move to Connecticut. “It was the pits,” Frank said. “But my wife loved it. She had her dream home and could go to New York.”
However, that move only lasted a year because Mercedes moved Frank to Portland to take charge of the company’s Western states division. Fortunately, in 1984 Frank found a great place for a new home – Lake Oswego.
“I was able to talk my wife into buying a house on the lake,” Frank said. “Best move I ever made because of the appreciation in value over the years.” To say he loves it here is putting it mildly. His sons and grandkids even live nearby.“I’m living the dream,” he said.
Once you reach the age of 77 you become an expert on life, and one of Bridwell’s special areas of knowledge is marriage. “It’s still a work in progress,” Frank said. “My advice about marriage is it’s something you have to work at. Don’t give up! And remember that the grass is not greener somewhere else.”
Although he is now a proud North-Westerner, you can’t take the Tennessee out of this good old boy. “What you see is what you get,” Frank said. “It’s always been like that. I have no hidden agendas.”