If one were looking for a reason to continue exercising well into what is typically considered “old age,” one need look no further than Bob Hakes. At 88, Hakes is still biking 20 to 25 miles, three days a week, and running or swimming, depending on the season, twice a week. He golfs on Thursdays. On Sundays he watches the morning news shows with his wife Lucy, because, you know, you gotta take a break sometimes.
“I want to be around for a while,” said Hakes, “and I have a lot more left. We have four kids, seven grandkids and four great-grandkids. I want to see them grow up. And I have to stick around to help take care of Lucy.”
According to Don Jensen, one of Hakes’ cycling buddies and a retired physician, medical evidence indicates that being physically active improves the quality of life in many ways. He refers to a National Council on Aging article reporting that regular exercise may slow brain aging by up to 10 years.
“A lot of people become more sedentary as they age and that’s the kiss of death. The slower you move, the faster you die,” said Jensen, 76. “Bob is always positive and upbeat. He has had some health issues but he’s still doing everything — we should all be doing something.”
Hakes started running in the late 1970s with his buddy, the late Joe Powers, to train for the Frank Lloyd Wright Races. He started slow, running a half mile, then a mile, then three miles. He ran his first 10K (6.2 miles) in an impressive 48 minutes.
“Joe was 12 years older than me and just before the finish line at the high school, he came up from behind and zipped around me. I never forgave him for that,” Hakes said, laughing.
Hakes has now run a total of 38 marathons as well as several half-marathons, triathlons and 10Ks. He achieved a marathon PR (personal record), 3 hours and 5 minutes, during the 1985 Chicago Marathon, the same year that renowned runner Joan Benoit won the women’s division with a PR of 2 hours and 21 minutes. The difference was that Hakes was 50 and Benoit was 27.
While his favorite race is the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota because of the scenic course through rolling hills hugging the shore of Lake Superior, his most memorable was his first Boston Marathon, which he ran in 1983 with his pal Bud Ames.
“The crowds along both sides of the route were so exhilarating. We could hear the roars of the Wellesley College girls a mile away and they were slapping us and cheering us on with huge smiles. When we got to the end, I told Bud that we should go back and do it again,” he said.
Over the years, Hakes has enjoyed the rich camaraderie of many longtime local runners and cyclists, many of whom he has outlived. It’s a tight group that has included Don Jensen, Bob O’Connor, Paul Oppenheim, Bob Bell, Cliff Carlson, Larry Ritsert, the late Monroe Sullivan, Don Offermann, Jon Van, and Warren Johnson, as well as Powers and Ames. He was one of the original members of the Oak Park Runners Club (OPRC) and the OWies, a group of runners who meet every Saturday morning at the intersection of Oak Street and William Avenue in River Forest.
Hakes and several other members of the OPRC started the “Good Life Race” in 1982 as a small, neighborhood race around Lindberg Park. The 5K event, the proceeds of which benefit local nonprofit organizations, is now one of the premier races in the Chicago region.
He and Bud Ames biked the week-long RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa) several times, riding country roads along the 460-mile course and camping out in Ames’ two-man tent. Hakes claims it was a great way to see the “real America.”
“There’s solace in camaraderie,” he said. “Life is worth living when you have good friends. Bud Ames used to say there are no secrets between runners. All my friends were professionals — doctors and lawyers and bankers and such — and I’m just a high school graduate. I opened my ears and listened to them and learned from them — and I competed with them.”
Hakes graduated from Foreman High School in Chicago before being drafted into the Army in 1957. He attended clerk typist school at Fort Leonard Wood near St. Louis, where he met Lucy, his wife of 65 years. The training positioned him for a spot with the military post office in Frankfurt, Germany, where he sorted and distributed mail from the U.S. to Army Post Offices (APOs) throughout the country. To this day, he can remember the postal numbers associated with each of the APOs he serviced (trust me — I tried to stump him).
He and Lucy enjoyed an extended honeymoon in Europe, skiing in Munich and driving the Autobahn to Paris where they rented a room near the Arc de Triomphe. Hakes, a jazz aficionado, was thrilled to hear Lester Young, Kenny Clarke and Jimmy Gourley at the famed Blue Note. He still has his prized collection of jazz records. They welcomed their first child while overseas.
When he returned to Chicago, Hakes found work at Warp Bros., a family-owned business, founded in 1924 by Harold Warp. He and Lucy bought their first house in Oak Park, at 311 N. Lombard Ave., for $40,000. Hakes stayed at Warp for 50 years, before officially retiring in 2003, although the company called him back a few years ago — when he was in his 80s — to fill in after his replacement retired.
“You always have to give at least 110% — always do a little more than is expected of you. I practiced that at work and I practice it with my marriage. I was kind of a bad boy, smoking and drinking too much with my buddies after work during the early years of my marriage. But I’m making up for it. Do you know what I do now? I make the bed and sometimes I even make the coffee and the toast. How do you like that?!”
Lucy supports her husband’s devotion to exercise and has accompanied him to several of his marathons. They are active members of St. Edmund Church, where Hakes sings in the choir.
“His running and biking keep him out of the house — and the house is never messy when he’s not around,” she said with a laugh.
“Bob is sharp as a tack,” said Oppenheim. “I call him the Energizer Bunny. He keeps up with the cycling group and occasionally he’ll take the lead. He’s engaging and always talking about politics and complaining about Trump. How many can do that in their 80s?”
“Bob is always positive and upbeat. He tells great stories and his memory is incredible,” said Jensen.
According to Hakes, the key to a successful life is to always have something to look forward to — every day. That includes his exercise routine, the crossword puzzle he does every morning to keep his mind sharp, the delicious meals Lucy makes for him, and the nice Manhattan he frequently makes for her.
This July, he and Bob O’Connor will participate in the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh — Hakes will compete in the 50, 100, 200 and 400-meter races.
Needless to say, he’s looking forward to it.