The sound of slot machines resonates through the casino. The smell of smoke is in the air and creates a haze that pervades the building. Commotion and loud voices fill the ears of James Doyle, 70, as he sits on a leather casino chair in front of one of the slots at Western Village Inn and Casino in Sparks, Nevada. He comes here or the Peppermill almost every day to pass the time before he picks up his granddaughter from her high school at 2:30. Picking her up has been the highlight of his day ever since he retired five years ago.
Doyle was born in Cleveland, Oklahoma, July 2, 1944. His mom and dad moved to California when he was very young. Doyle’s mom, Dorothy Graham, divorced his father, Warner Doyle, when he was about three years old. Graham had full custody of Doyle, and received child support from Warner Doyle. A few years later, Graham married Junior Allen Capps and took his last name. Doyle and his step-dad did not get along whatsoever. He said his step-dad was often physically abusive towards him, and his mom didn’t do anything about it.
During his adolescence Doyle started working on a farm and made money picking fruit. Doyle was very active in high school. He ran for his school’s cross-country team. Doyle also loved to take pictures, especially of his high school’s athletic teams. Many of the photos he took at games were used in the local newspaper. Despite his interest in photography, Doyle didn’t want to do this as a career. Instead he went to trade school and became a boiler engineer.
Doyle started out with a job working on machinery in a paper mill in Humboldt County. He worked for this paper mill for twenty years.
Doyle married a woman named Diane, and they had three kids, Michael, Leslie and Timothy. Doyle started to tear up as he talked about his children. When Michael Doyle was two years old he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Doyle’s stepdad, Capps, adored Michael. Doyle said his stepdad shaved his head when Michael lost his hair due to chemotherapy. Doyle made trips to San Francisco so Michael could receive the best treatment. Despite all of the chemotherapy and medical treatments, Michael Doyle died when he was just five years old.
“The day Michael was born was the best day of my life,” Doyle said.
Doyle and his wife Diane divorced in 1976, about two years after their youngest son Timothy was born. He later met Janet Caldwell in Eureka, California, and they were married in 1980. Janet Doyle had a young daughter named Lisa Porter, and James Doyle treated her as if she was his own child. They all moved to Reno, Nevada in 1989.
“I moved to Reno because I wanted to get away from all of the gloomy weather on the coast,” Doyle said.
After moving to Reno, Doyle got a job working on machinery in a power plant. He stayed at the power plant for one year and then got a job working on machinery in the Circus Circus casino. He worked there for nineteen years and nine months up until his retirement.
Doyle is fairly healthy for his age. He suffers from diabetes but eats what he is supposed to, takes the medicine he is supposed to and regularly visits the doctor so the illness does not affect his life.
“It can be somewhat of a burden but I have to do it to stay healthy,” Doyle said.
One morning in 1995, Doyle woke up and didn’t feel good. He went to the doctor where they did some tests and discovered he had diabetes. While at the hospital he called his stepdaughter because he was about to be admitted with a blood sugar over 700. A blood pressure this high can cause life-threatening dehydration or coma if untreated. Doctors eventually let him go home and his stepdaughter helped him until he got used to doing his blood sugar and everything else he needed to do to manage his illness.
Doyle is a friendly guy who loves to talk and tell stories. Those close to him call him Jim instead of James. He has the ability to make new friends everywhere he goes and he very often does.
“We can’t go anywhere without him striking up a conversation with somebody,” Janet Doyle said. “He doesn’t have a problem approaching people, he’ll talk to anybody.”
Doyle is a regular at Western Village and the Peppermill, and is fairly close with most of the staff. He brings treats to the waitresses and busboys at the casino restaurants, and they take very good care of him in return.
“Almost every time he comes in to eat, he’ll bring cookies, chocolate or some other kind of treat to the people working in the restaurant,” said Amanda Miller, the general manager of Cafe Milano inside the Peppermill. “Everybody loves him here.”
Doyle’s wife is still working as a supervisor in the IT Department at the Grand Sierra Resort, so he doesn’t really have anybody to enjoy retirement with yet.
“I usually get at least two phone calls from him a day while I’m at work,” Janet Doyle said. “He also calls my daughter and granddaughters during the day. He gets lonely and just wants to talk to someone.”
Two years after Doyle retired, he applied to work at a few places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco and Cabela’s. Doyle said he wanted a part-time job to keep him busy during the day.
“As much as I don’t want to admit it, I’m one of the old people now and they don’t want to hire old people,” Doyle said.
Doyle was interviewed for a few of the jobs. The employers were nice but he thinks they didn’t offer him the job because of his age.
“At first I thought retirement was going to be a blast, but then I learned pretty quickly that going golfing all the time gets old,” Doyle said.
Doyle wants to apply for a job again but is a little hesitant because of what happened last time. Doyle was made aware of the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP) at the Sanford Center for Aging located on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, and plans to enroll in January.
“I don’t want a job for the money,” Doyle said. “I’m just bored, and want to do something productive.”
This program allows retired seniors to volunteer for a variety of organizations in the Reno area including the VA Medical Center, Washoe County School District and many others. Volunteers can also participate in UNR Research Studies related to brain injuries, strokes and Parkinson’s disease.
The Retired Senior and Volunteer Program at the Sanford Center for Aging not only offers volunteer opportunities, they can also get seniors involved in the Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division at Silver College or the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). OLLI offers a variety of classes including photography and bird watching.
RSVP has something for everyone. Volunteers get to choose where and how often they want to work based on their skills, experience and schedules.
Suellen Bacigalupi is the coordinator for the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program. She said RVSP currently has 529 enrolled in the program, and the average age of these volunteers is about 72.
“Studies show that older adults are healthier the more active they are,” Bacigalupi said.
Being involved is not only important for an older adult’s physical health, but also their emotional health. Having ties to the community reduces the chance of depression and suicide.
“8,618 Americans over the age of 60, committed suicide in 2010,” according to the National Council on Aging. “Suicide rates are highest among white males over the age of 85, their suicide rate is four times higher than the nation’s overall suicide rate.”
“RSVP gives volunteers a sense of well-being,” Bacigalupi said. “They are getting up in the morning and getting involved in the community, not just sitting around their house.”
The mission of the Sanford Center is to improve the quality of life of elderly people in the community through research, education and community outreach. The Retired Senior and Volunteer Program is just one of four programs offered by the center. There is also the Senior Outreach Services Program, the Medication Therapy Management Program, and the Chronic Disease Self Management Program.
“Nevada has the second fastest aging population in the nation, so it is really important that we have ways to support older people living in the community,” said Peter Reed the director of the Sanford Center for Aging.
Once Doyle is enrolled in the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program he will spend his time helping out at local organizations or start taking pictures again in a photography class at OLLI, instead of passing time in a casino.
“I’m ready to be involved again,” Doyle said.