She's an absolute marvel. I just come in every day to watch her and be amazed. —Ruth Norton
SALT LAKE CITY — Each morning at 4:30 Alice Telford is up and at 'em, running stairs, stretching, elevating her heart rate.
So what's her goal? The next Olympics? The Ironman? Cage fighting?
Nope. She's getting ready for her shift as a "courtesy counselor" at Zions Bank.
Actually, that's not even entirely true. Her over-arching goal, above and beyond being healthy and alert for her job at the bank — and the bike ride she'll probably take when her shift is over — can be described in the two words that sum up her life's game plan.
It's certainly worked so far. Alice is 88 years old and not only does she hold down a 40-hour-a-week job, she attacks it with an intern's enthusiasm. She might not be all that terrific at running the copy machine, but put her on the phone with the bank's large investors — her official title is "President's Circle benefits representative" — and she chats away like a schoolgirl, charming their socks off.
Her strategy is uncomplicated. "I apologize for what's happened, no matter what it is.
"And having this mature voice instead of a young voice, it really pays off," she adds.
After the call she sits down and writes out a note in the beautiful cursive penmanship she learned 70 years ago at Davis High School and drops it in the mail.
The younger girls don't have a chance.
"She's an absolute marvel," observes Ruth Norton, Zions' special events coordinator and Alice's supervisor, at least ostensibly. "I just come in every day to watch her and be amazed."
For Alice, the job at the bank is the latest chapter in a good long book, the title of which could be "It's a Lengthy Life So Why Not Enjoy It?"
Her roller coaster ride has already been more tumultuous than most. She was born in 1924 and raised on her father's fruit farm in Kaysville. When she graduated from Davis High, Class of '42, World War II was raging and she went to work at nearby Hill Field making rivets. After that she enrolled at Utah State University, where she joined a sorority and met Paul Telford, a potato farmer's son from Idaho Falls.
Alice and Paul were married in 1945 and headed off to Ohio State University, where Paul got a master's degree in entymology. By the time they left for Los Angeles and a job with the board of health, their son, John, was born.
On paper, Alice's future seemed charted in stone — she would be a homemaker and raise a large family.
But life isn't lived on paper. In 1950 Paul died of heart failure at the age of 27. Seventeen years later, in 1967, John was killed in Vietnam. He was about to turn 21.
The life Alice has lived since she lost it all has been a tribute not just to her, but also to her husband and her son.
"Whining," she says, "doesn't do anybody any good."
Determined to stay as active as possible so she wouldn't dwell on her problems, soon after John died she switched jobs, leaving a secure but small-paying position at Univac to subdivide 30 acres of her dad's farmland.
She stayed in real estate until society suggested it was time to retire at age 65. In the meantime, she'd discovered a passion for bicycle riding and she soon found herself cycling the world. She bicycled in Canada, China, Europe, Mexico and one time spent two weeks in Siberia.
But her favorite ride, and the one that would make her famous in cycling circles, was back home in northern Utah.
It was while cycling with girlfriend Sue Shawle through the sleepy, charming farm towns on the west side of Cache Valley that Alice, 73 years young, had the brainstorm to start the Little Red Riding Hood Ride, an all-women event that began with about a dozen riders in 1987 and this year for its 25th edition sold out all of its 3,500 slots in less than one hour.
Alice's plan is to never stop riding her bike, although that's been put on hold for the moment on account of an auto accident last summer that damaged nerves in her neck and has her in therapy two to three times a week.
"But I'm getting better," she says. "The doctors told me if I wasn't in such good shape I probably wouldn't be here."
Meanwhile, she's holding tight to her day job. She started at the bank 10 years ago, when she was 78 and "I realized my friends had all died off and I had to go back to work and make more friends."
Now, you couldn't drag her away. "I'll stay here as long as they like me and let me," she says.
At 88, she's found, you appreciate the preciousness of life more than ever.
"I remember in grade school, it seemed like those nine months would never end," Alice says. "Now I look back and it's like my life has evaporated, it's gone so fast. Every day I thank God for the wonderful new day he's given me."
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org