WORTHINGTON - At age 90, Colbert “Corky” Bassett still starts every day at 4 a.m. - something programmed in him after 40 years as a school bus driver and business owner - but he doesn’t sit around and wait for the sun to rise.
The Worthington man likes to keep busy, and he likes to help others. That might explain why Bassett is at Worthington’s Center for Active Living (CAL) by 6:30 a.m. six days a week to unlock the door and start up the coffee pot. He wants to get there early to let the ping pong players inside, and then waits around for the 8 a.m. card and pool players. Of course, he often joins in a game of pinochle - and still shoots pool as well.
“What I like about it is it’s something to do,” said Bassett, recently recognized as Nobles County’s Outstanding Senior.
When Bassett and his late wife, Ardell, moved to Worthington, he found camaraderie in the senior center crowd. When the center moved to its former site inside the Ace Hardware Building, Bassett offered to open the doors early and make coffee. Now that the seniors have moved into the CAL, he’s continued to do so.
It was Bassett’s volunteering to unlock the doors and start the coffee - along with a hundred other little things - that earned him the outstanding senior recognition.
Kris Hohensee, director at the CAL, nominated Bassett for the honor. She said he not only opens the building in the morning, he also comes back to lock the doors on occasion and helps out whenever asked.
“I know that he goes out to places like The Meadows and the nursing homes to visit people that he knows used to come to the CAL and keeps them updated on happenings down there,” Hohensee said. “He is a delight to talk to and a warm and loving person. He makes my work day special every day.”
Bassett said he’d like to see more people join in activities at the CAL.
“We don’t get the people we should get out there,” he added.
For Bassett, who lost his wife in January 2012, the center is a place to gather with others, talk and enjoy a little friendly competition.
At the card table, Bassett admits with laugh, “I ain’t the best - ain’t the best at pool, either.
“I’m getting older, I think,” he said. “Used to be I wasn’t too bad.”
Bassett grew up on a farm near Currie and enlisted in the Army in the midst of World War II. He served three years with the 38th Division in the Philippines, spending time on the front lines in battle, and in the boxing ring for entertainment.
“I fought every week in the Manilla Square Gardens,” he shared. “Only one guy knocked me out, and that was my own fault.”
Bassett never received compensation for his boxing matches - it was purely to entertain his fellow soldiers.
“The last fight I fought over in Manilla, (his opponent) hit me, and I took a dive,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to win because I would have had to stay over there and tour the country.”
With the war drawing to a close, the last thing he wanted to do was stay in the Philippines.
When Bassett returned home, he went to work for his brother, Peter, at the Bassett’s butcher shop in Sanborn. For the next five years, he learned the trade - and also met the woman who would become his wife.
After the couple married, they moved to Nobles County and Bassett purchased a meat locker in Rushmore.
For a span of three years, Bassett not only operated the meat locker, but he also drove school bus and worked the night shift at Campbell Soup Co. in Worthington. He ultimately had to quit at Campbell’s because he wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Bassett’s career as a school bus driver spanned 40 years, while his career as a butcher extended to nearly 60 years.
Now, in retirement, Bassett said going to the CAL helps fills his days.
“Sundays are my worst days,” he said. Those are the days the CAL isn’t open.
As for being recognized as an outstanding senior, Bassett said, “That’s something. I didn’t think I was doing anything to deserve that. I like to help people.”
Bassett has two children, Steve (Rita) Bassett of Worthington and Julie (Bruce) Wendling, of Beresford, S.D. He also has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.