For Bob Hodson, a resident of BridgePoint at Los Altos, retirement meant finally finding time to pursue a lifelong interest. After playing piano and clarinet in his youth, the banjo resonated with him in college, but learning to play it would have to wait several decades.
Born in Salt Lake City, Hodson’s family moved to Mountain View in 1936, when he was 7. Those were the days of orchards in the Santa Clara Valley, and Hodson grew up picking prunes and apricots. He went on to make a career of the area’s bounty, working in the canning and food-processing business locally and in the Central Valley. Starting as an engineer with a small company that became one of the largest processing companies in the state, Tri-Valley Growers, he later became president of another canning company that merged with Tri-Valley.
In the years before his retirement, he worked with a company that made and serviced machinery that squeezed orange juice; that job involved extensive travel to temperate zones such as southern Europe, South America, Africa, Japan and Australia.
Hodson has three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His second wife, Norma, stricken with Alzheimer’s disease approximately nine years ago, now resides at the Silverado memory care facility in Belmont. Norma had three children of her own before they married, and now five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“So between us we had a ton of kids and grandkids – and great-grandkids now,” he said of his blended family.
Until moving to BridgePoint nine months ago, Hodson lived on his own in San Mateo, not far from Norma.
Bitten by banjo bug
Hodson first became a fan of the banjo in college or shortly before. He recalled listening to the Dixieland jazz bands in the Bay Area at the time.
“There was one (club) in El Cerrito called Hambone Kelly’s; we went over there and listened to Lou Waters and some of the bands in those days,” he said. “We did the Balboa (dance) … it’s kind of like the Charleston. There was an awful lot of kicking around you; you’d wind up bruised.”
For many years, Hodson was too busy with work and family to take up the banjo, but when he retired 30 years ago, he said he took his first lessons from “one of the best banjo players in the country, Dave Marty, who happened to be living in San Francisco.” Having just bought a motorhome, though, the banjo took a backseat once again.
“We spent almost five years just traveling most of the time, after we retired,” Hodson said, “all over the country and Canada, and I didn’t get much time to play the banjo or practice or even have lessons.”
When they moved back to the area – to Sunnyvale – Hodson resumed his lessons and joined a San Jose banjo band. He later joined and for several years served as president of Happy Time Banjos, a band he still plays with every week. The group of about a dozen retirees practices Monday afternoons and on Tuesday evenings performs at Harry’s Hofbrau in Redwood City for an audience of all ages. Once a year, they participate in “Banjo-Rama,” held in Sacramento. The band, a nonprofit endeavor, also plays for other organizations, and any money they earn goes to charity.
Hodson’s daughter Debra also caught the banjo bug upon retirement. Hodson said he got her started with some of the basics, but she was soon taking lessons from her father’s old teacher. She is now also a member of Happy Time Banjos, and currently serves as music director.
They sometimes play as a duo.
“When she was learning to play, we developed maybe a dozen songs that we could play together,” Hodson said. “So we periodically get together in my room and probably drive my neighbor crazy.”
They also have performed for BridgePoint residents.
Benefits of music
Research has shown that learning new things – including how to play a musical instrument – increases neuroplasticity and brain health. Hodson would agree.
“I learned that music, as you get older, is really therapeutic,” he said. “It’s good for the brain – you’ve got your right hand doing things, you’ve got your left hand doing things, and your brain has to keep track of all that. … Besides that, it’s work – it’s challenging and keeps you active.”
He said that Alzheimer’s patients – like his wife, Norma, who was an accordion player in her youth – still respond to music.
Keeping active in retirement is essential, according to Hodson. In addition to playing music, he has practiced tai chi, which he said improves balance in older people.
“You can’t just sit around and wonder, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’ … You need to have something to do,” he said. “And keeping physically active, I think, is really important also, as long as you can.”
Playing the banjo was one of the top items on the bucket list Hodson made when he retired. Other items he crossed off the list were going on a glider ride and taking computer classes. Brushing up on Spanish was another, but he’s been too busy to pursue that one so far.
Happy Time Banjos performs 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays at Harry’s Hofbrau, 1909 El Camino Real, Redwood City.
For more information on BridgePoint at Los Altos, visit tinyurl.com/bridgepointla.