COEUR d'ALENE - Dick Panabaker, after 18 years on the board of the Lake City Center, is retiring.
And naturally, they're throwing a party for him, which happens to be tonight, 4-5. He'll smile and laugh and shake hands with folks sad to see him go. And they'll swap some warm, fuzzy stories, too.
But warm and fuzzy isn't the style of this blue-collar, straight-talking, hard-charging Hayden Lake man who would rather be covered in grease while restoring his beloved Nash classics than sitting in an office crunching numbers.
The 71-year-old Panabaker shakes his head when he explains why, after nearly two decades on the board, he is done.
It's pretty simple.
The former Kootenai County commissioner no longer wishes to fight. Like other community organizations, funding is tight at the center for seniors. Always has been. Probably always will be. Panabaker wishes it wasn't that way. He's not sure of a solution. He doubts he has the drive to find it.
"They need some forward-thinking people with a fire in their belly to get it done and I'm not the guy.
That's what it's really about," he said. "I don't think I'm adding anything to what they do. I think they need someone who can do better."
"I've been there a long time and I don't see it getting any better. It's time to step aside and let somebody else in."
Panabaker's commitment to seniors is beyond question, says center manager Rick Currie.
Currie, also a former Kootenai County commissioner, called Panabaker a "common sense person," with a "common sense approach."
"Dick has a real commitment to community and a commitment to fairness," he said.
He said Panabaker was always there for the seniors and worked hard to maintain the center and its programs. He donated thousands of hours over the years to the volunteer position.
"That is our absolute goal here, our senior community," Currie said.
Panabaker, though, worries Coeur d'Alene's senior center is financially in trouble. It receives no funding from the city, he adds, and he believes it should.
"Doggone it, it isn't that much money. They don't need very much. Just enough to pay the overhead."
The member of the Hayden City Council said Hayden contributes about $30,000 to its senior center, which is a great help.
"If Hayden didn't do that, that place would be gone in a week," he said.
Covering costs at the Lake City Center is a constant struggle, he said.
"And nobody seems to give damn," he said. "If things don't change radically, if they don't get some help or funding, I think that place is going to go down."
"I hate to see it go down," he added. "But I'm tired of fighting the same battle. Maybe that's chicken of me."
Nobody has ever called Dick Panabaker chicken, at least not to his face.
He has faced pressure for his decisions in 10 years as a county commissioner. He has gone against public wishes for what he believed was best for the community. He always, in his political career, made decisions based on what he believed was the right thing to do, not what others wanted him to do. Not what others told him to do.
He is known for being outspoken and blunt, to the point it likely earned him some enemies.
When he's riled over issues, he fires off words like responsibility, ludicrous and stupidity. An occasional crap and BS slip through. That's his style, no offense.
"I don't make decisions based on whether I'll ever get elected again. You're bound to irritate people over a period of time. It's bound to happen. You can't make everybody happy."
"If they don't like what I do then boot me out and get someone else. That's just the way it works."
Now that he's retiring from the center, he has no plans to run for commissioner down the road. He's not politically correct enough to be elected, he says.
"I know I jabber too much," he said.
There's always family, trips and cars.
Panabaker and wife Karen will celebrate their 48th anniversary Oct. 10. They enjoy spending time with their two children and 10 grandchildren. He looks forward to camping, boating, and of course, restoring cars, especially anything Nash.
He did what he could for the senior center, which he believes is essential to the community. It is one of the best in the state and he takes pride in it. Seniors rely on it for meals, for a place to socialize, for classes, for games of pool.
He chuckles as he recounts a tale of raising the price of pinochle by a dime.
Big mistake. Unhappy seniors.
"They came over the wall," he said, laughing. "You could have kicked Red China out of the UN easier than raise those pinochle games 10 cents."
So, surely, the dime increase went away to keep the peace?
"Oh, no way," he said. "It stayed."
If you go
The drawing for a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair and a party to honor retiring board chairman Dick Panabaker is set for tonight at the Lake City Center.
The social hour to meet and greet Panabaker will run 4-5 p.m., and it will include refreshments. It will be followed by the drawing for the classic convertible, which is being offered as a fundraiser for the center.
The public is welcome.