No matter what challenge life throws his way, Jake Mitchell always looks on the bright side. A lifelong Salinan, Jake was born with hearing loss. Growing up, he didn’t want hearing aids because he didn’t want to be different from other kids. Instead, he learned to read lips to get by.
After high school, he discovered a passion for autobody and fender repair, particularly welding. He attended trade school in Kansas City for a year, then settled into a career at Salina Manufacturing (now K-Tron), where he worked from 1967 to 1999. He enjoyed the challenge and precision welding required.
“We did a lot of the work by hand, before computers. I’m kind of glad I missed the computer era,” he said. “I would dream about things, wondering, how am I going to make that work?”
During his working years, Jake also did a lot of “hobby” welding. Known around town for his abilities, he took on tricky side jobs others didn’t want to do. Jake still spends time in the shop, recently welding an urn that will one day hold his remains.
Because his hearing interfered with his balance, Jake never rode a bike as a kid. But in his early 20s, he found a bike and taught himself to ride. Jake said he had always been a heavy young man, but as he biked back and forth between home and work, he lost over 100 pounds. This sparked a lifelong love for cycling and staying in shape.
“After I retired, I knew I had to do something or my body was going to run down,” he said. “So I started riding the bike more.” He and his friends would often ride 25-30 miles at a time. Jake, who just turned 80, now prefers exercising indoors, so he spends his mornings at the YMCA. He sold his bikes and used the money to start a college fund for his friend’s daughter.
The biggest challenge of Jake’s life came on September 23, 2013. He had just gotten gas and merged on to the interstate, headed to buy an air filter for his furnace. “I see this car come up over the hill—fast—in my rearview mirror,” he said. “I thought, oh no, this isn’t good. Then, I just kind of braced for a collision.”
Jake said his truck rolled multiple times, but luckily the doors stayed shut and he stayed inside. “If it had ejected me, it probably would have killed me,” he said.
The next three weeks were spent in the ICU with a feeding tube. As someone who likes to keep busy, being cooped up in the hospital was not exactly Jake’s idea of a good time. He did rehab at the Presbyterian Manor, where his positivity and persistence carried him through. “I made it work,” he said. “I did rehab a couple times a day. I was quite weak so it took a long time to recover. Eventually, I got strong enough to drive again.”
When he returned to his home on a half-acre of ground, Jake realized it was too much for him to take care of by himself. “The Manor was great during my rehab,” Jake said. “So I moved out there, and I’ve been out there five years.”
Jake wanted to give back to the organizations that helped him after his accident. When Jake learned about the Greater Salina Community Foundation, he “thought it was pretty cool.” His attorney and financial planner helped him set up his trust so a portion of it will be used to establish a fund at the community foundation to benefit three charities: New Community Christian Church, Presbyterian Manor and the Salina Family YMCA. He likes the idea that they will be able to count on money coming from his fund every year.
“My recovery is why I am leaving money to the Manor and to the Y. It basically saved my life, I think, because of the shape I was in before I got hurt. Then it was my goal to get back to that shape,” he said. “The Y means a great deal to me, for helping kids and for what it does for the community. I think it’s great. It’s something Salina really needs, and we’d miss it if we didn’t have it.”
It’s his generous, positive spirit that keeps Jake motivated every day. “Life is good, I like my life,” Jake said. “My glass is half full. That’s the way I look at it.”