By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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90-year-old man is as busy as ever

Photo by Rob Varela/Ventura County Star: Bill Schneider plays with the Main Street Jazz Band during a recent event at the Poinsettia Pavilion in Ventura.

'A life lived fully and richly'

As Bill Schneider gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday, he looks back on his time as a print and commercial model, Kevin Costner's Little League coach, a merchant seaman and a teacher with the El Rio and Ventura school districts.

"I've been active most of my life," said the Ventura native, who now lives in Saticoy. "My father was a healthy guy too. I think it's in the genes. I stay busy, and there are always projects to do, either in the community or personally."

Schneider, who retired from teaching in 1982, attended Santa Clara Street kindergarten, Saticoy Elementary School, Ventura Junior High and Ventura High before entering Ventura College.

"It was in those high school years that I started to play softball; this was before television and people didn't have anything to do, so they would watch our games at night," said Schneider, who outlived his first wife, Audrey, and is now married to Norma Jean, his wife of 35 years. Together, they have five children, one granddaughter and one great-grandson.

As a long-time fixture in the community, Schneider recently found a way to set himself apart from others in the area with the same first name.

"I was in a doctor's office the other day; the receptionist said Bill' and five guys stood up," he said. With that, "I call myself Old Bill Schneider.'"

Titles aside, he is at no loss for activities to fill his time. Whether he's having coffee with his childhood friends at Cafe 126 in Saticoy, playing trombone in two jazz bands or raising money for the Saticoy Lions Club, Schneider takes pride in staying active in retirement.

"I've always had a job," he said, including as a cleaning truck driver and agricultural pest controller. When the war broke out — he was exempt from serving because of poor vision — "my folks were in trouble so I took over my dad's job. He was a custodian at Saticoy School."

More than a parishioner

John Martin, minister at Church of the Foothills in Ventura, said Schneider is more than a member of the parish.

"He is also my good friend and adviser," Martin said. "Bill is a very caring and gentle man who always has a twinkle in his eye, a friendly smile and a listening ear."

He also is considered a renaissance man — an athlete in his younger days, an excellent musician and an actor known for his Carl Sandburg impersonation in which he shares selections by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Martin said.

Martin especially remembers his talks with Schneider about some of the best years of his career.

"His favorite days were when he was a counselor for junior high school students; I remember him telling about one boy who was fearful coming into his office because he had done something wrong," Martin said. "Bill took him outside, where he helped the boy build and then fly a kite, which Bill thought would be the best remedy for the frightened boy."

As a result, "the school never had any problems with the boy afterward," Martin said.

'Always there'

Velma Lomax, a Board of Education member for the Ventura Unified School District, has known Schneider for several years but got to know him best when they were working with Cheers for Children, the district's annual food drive for underprivileged families.

"He is always there, always has a smile and works tirelessly," Lomax said. "Bill is a remarkable person who always has a very positive outlook on everything. He has been a proven leader and all-around great person."

He also is a great source of wisdom and information regarding the Ventura and Saticoy communities, said Nancy Gregg, director of development for the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura; she met Schneider about five years ago through a musician friend who played in one of his bands.

"His breadth of background and genuine love of the community singles him out as an articulate and compassionate resource on the history of the area," Gregg said.

"He has crammed multiple careers and interests into his life: He is a graduate of USC; he's been a teacher and counselor, a professional storyteller, an actor performing in TV ads and movies plus he still plays trombone and heads the Razzberry Jam and Main Street Jazz bands that perform at multiple venues throughout the community."

At almost 90, he exudes the life lesson of "taking oneself seriously enough to take oneself lightly."

"He demonstrates that years lived are mere numbers; what really matters is how those years are filled," Gregg said. "He is an articulate, talented, kind example of a life lived fully and richly."

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