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Poet, songwriter, performer too busy for retirement

  • Written by Shannon Michael Features Writer

Italene GaddisItalene Gaddis, 88, brought her songs and poetry filled with positive messages to the residents at Chateau at Bothell Landing recently. Gaddis became a performer after winning a songwriting contest and recording contract when she was 62 years old. Since then, she’s performed over 325 concerts, making “retirement” an obsolete word in her dictionary.Most people who are 62 years old are probably looking forward to retirement and slowing down a fast-paced life. Not Italene Gaddis.

A lifelong writer of poetry and songs, Gaddis’ sons encouraged her to enter a songwriting contest that offered a recording contract to the winner. Gaddis was the winner out of 84 contestants. That was in 1987 when she was 62 years old.

"I really thought I was too old to be entering the contest!" Gaddis explained.

Fast forward 26 years, and Gaddis, now 88, is performing in concerts with her autoharp all over the Puget Sound region, has a book of poems released in December 2012, "From My Heart to Yours" available on Amazon, a CD of her music available for sale, and her own website, italene.com.

Gaddis often performs at retirement homes and senior centers. She went back recently and counted how many concerts she’s performed since winning that recording contract and stopped counting at 325.

She has a few concerts in the area coming up, including September 9 at 3 p.m. at Aegis of Redmond, and October 1 at 2 p.m. at Life Care Center in Bothell.

If you need a positive pick-me-up experience, seeing her perform is a must.

"I’m really not 88, I’m Italene! I still do what I used to do at age 38," Gaddis said, adding, "I’ve had more fun now than when I was young!"

She went on to say that her attitude has changed since she started doing concerts. "I believe the word ‘retirement’ should be banished!" she declared.

Gaddis was born in Souix City, Iowa. Her mother wanted a name that couldn’t be turned into a nickname, so she made up the name Italene. To her knowledge, she’s the only one with that first name in America.

"I tell people to pronounce my name like you’re saying, ‘It’ll lean!’" she explained.

She lived in Iowa until her father left the family when she was two years old. Her mother moved the four children to her family’s farm in Arkansas where she lived until they moved to Chicago when she was nine.

There, she met her husband, a man from Kentucky, and after a brief six-week courtship they married and lived in Kentucky until his death in 1982. Gaddis already had her oldest son living in the Seattle area, so she and her youngest son moved to the Puget Sound region in 1983 to join her other son. She lives in Newcastle now.

"I think this area could teach the South about hospitality. People are very helpful here," Gaddis said about her early experiences living so far from Kentucky.

Gaddis started writing songs for her mother when she was about 14 years old, so her mother bought her a guitar. That song she first wrote was the first one she recorded after winning the recording contract.

Writing songs has always come easy for her. "I can write a song in about 10 minutes because I think they’re given to me from my Father in Heaven," she said.

To date, she’s written about 300 songs.She chooses to write about positive experiences rather than negative ones.

"Everyone needs to be encouraged. That’s what I try to do through my songs," she said. She loves writing in rhyme as a way of expressing herself.

Her performance is sprinkled with positive words of encouragement and testimonials on the power of love versus negativity. At a recent concert held at Chateau at Bothell Landing, her song, "I Don’t See You With My Eyes, I See You With My Heart" brought tears to a few of the seniors in attendance. It was a love song she’d written for her mother when she was 98 years old.

Gaddis gives most of the credit for her positive outlook on life to her mother, Sarah Elizabeth. "Mother’s rule always was I can do anything I want to do as long as I don’t hurt myself or anyone else," she said. Her mother taught her that life lesson when she was just nine years old.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Gaddis shared with the Chateau audience as she wrapped up her performance with some more pearls of wisdom, including this gem: "Life is like a ladder. Every day we learn something we take a step up. Everyone’s on the ladder standing on a different step."

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