Secret to longevity from Gresham man, 97: 'Do what you love'

For some, picking up a new hobby can be daunting. Mastering it, even harder. But that's not the case for 97-year-old Lisle Meloy of Gresham, who taught himself to build ukuleles when he was 92.

Sara Roth, KGW.com Staff

GRESHAM, Ore. -- For some, picking up a new hobby can be daunting. Mastering it, even harder. But that's not the case for 97-year-old Lisle Meloy of Gresham.

Meloy, whose friends call him Bill, has always loved ukulele music. His favorite vacations are the ones he took to Hawaii with his wife, Helen, now deceased.

"One of the things I really enjoyed the most in Hawaii is the music," Meloy said. "It's pretty hard to beat."

But it wasn't until five years ago, when Meloy was 92, that he decided to try his hand at making the delicate guitar-like instruments.

At 97, Gresham man hones hobby of crafting ukuleles from Sara Roth on Vimeo.

After his first try yielded a "first-class ukulele," he decided to keep going. So far, he's made 23 ukuleles and has sold nearly half of them to friends and musicians.

"It turned out to be a pretty nice hobby," he said. "It's such an involved process."

Meloy walks with a bit of a shuffle, but that doesn't stop him from the physical labor of building the ukuleles. He crafts them in his garage, which is filled with tools and machinery used to heat, bend and cut the specialty Hawaiian and African woods he sources for the instruments.

"The most involved part is bending the wood. That's critical," he said. "It doesn't always turn out the way you think it's going to be. Sometimes, you use too much heat and burn the wood. Sometimes, the wood cracks."

But under Meloy's careful eye, each instrument has emerged nearly flawless. The wood gleams and the musicians he's sold them to say the sound is impeccable.

This isn't the first hobby Meloy has immersed himself in. When he was in his 60s, he took up oil painting. Now, many of those detailed landscapes line the walls of his home.

He's been collecting antique radios nearly all of his life, and radios ranging from the size of toasters to pianos are scattered throughout his house.

"I've been into radios since day one," Meloy said.

Meloy is also a master gardener, filling his dining room with starts in the winter and moving the seedlings to his outdoor garden beds once the cold Oregon rains subside in the spring.

Meloy said it's his hobbies that have kept him feeling young for so long. He worked for many years in construction and maintenance, first for himself then at Portland State University. But he said the secret to his longevity is pursuing passions outside of work.

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"Do the things you want to do for recreation," he said. "Get something that you just love to do."

Now, at 97, it's building ukuleles that Meloy loves most. They bring back fond memories of his trips to Hawaii, which slowed after Helen died in 1989 and stopped altogether about five years ago.

Meloy lives alone now. He wears a Life Alert necklace and is visited for a few hours each day by a neighbor. His two daughters stop by as much as they can, but Meloy said he's often lonely. His ex-girlfriend, who just turned 100, recently moved to a nursing home.

"I never thought much about old age, then all of a sudden it was here," he said.

Still, he continues to make the instruments that have brought him so much joy.

Now, Meloy is measuring his life in ukuleles.

"I'm counting out about two at a time," he said.

Lisle Meloy continues to sell his handmade ukuleles from his home in Gresham. To purchase a ukulele, call 503-667-8109.